Friday, March 09, 2012

Why Len Brown shows Labour its future

A week or so before the last general election I had a rather strained encounter with Carmel Sepuloni on the deck of a cafe in Ranui.

Carmel was campaigning for the Labour Party in the seat of Waitakere, and when I encountered her at Ranui she was giving my partner an election broadcast. In between sips from a blueberry smoothie, she condemned the way that Key's government had made workers and the poor pay for the global recession, by cutting state services and public sector jobs. She pointed out that, by cutting the spending power of ordinary Kiwis, National was perpetuating the recession. As Kiwis spent less and less, more and more workers in the retail and manufacturing sectors were laid off, and the economy grew weaker.

I agreed completely with Sepuloni's criticisms of National, but I worried that a Labour government might walk a similar path. After all, the last time New Zealand faced a profound economic crisis, the Labour government of David Lange and Roger Douglas responded by implementing the most radically right-wing set of policies ever seen in this country.

And, since the global recession began in late 2008, it has been governments led by Labour-style social democratic parties which have made some of the worst attacks on trade unions and the poor. In Greece, for instance, it has been the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, an organisation affiliated to the Labour parties of New Zealand, Australia, and Britain, which has been doing the bidding of bankers and the International Monetary Fund by cutting hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, slashing the minimum wage, and flogging off state assets at bargain basement prices. In Spain the social democratic Zapatero government became hugely unpopular for implementing similar policies.

In New Zealand some of Carmel's fellow Labour MPs had used ominously right-wing rhetoric on the election trail. On the stump in the high-profile seat of Epsom, Labour's David Parker had condemned his opponent John Banks for failing to 'balance the budget' during his time as Auckland's mayor, and had argued that Labour, not National or Act, was New Zealand's 'party of fiscal responsibility'.

It would be fair to say that Carmel Sepuloni was unimpressed with my fears about the response a Labour government might make to the recession. As the transcript of our conversation shows, she repeatedly lamented the fact that she couldn't enjoy a blueberry smoothie at her local cafe without having to listen to the irrational criticisms and ridiculous prophecies of a sectarian ultra-leftist.

Because Labour lost last November's election, it might seem that the argument I made to Carmel has yet to be tested by events. But while Labour has failed to win the Treasury benches from John Key, it does control the government of New Zealand's largest city. Labour's Len Brown was elected mayor of Auckland in 2010, after a campaign spearheaded by trade unionists, and has majority support on the city's council. Over the last week, though, Brown has outraged many of the people who voted for him, by backing the attempt of Ports of Auckland Limited bosses to smash the Maritime Union of New Zealand. After POAL, which is owned by Auckland city council, announced that it was making all three hundred workers on Auckland's docks redundant, Brown took to the airwaves to justify their move. POAL and Brown insist that Auckland's wharfies deserve to lose their jobs, because the wharfies have refused to abandon their collective contract and become casual labourers. During his election campaign a couple of years ago Brown presented himself as the voice of Auckland's trade union movement, but now he is endorsing the most egregious attack on a group of workers in New Zealand's recent history.

Over the past week Len Brown has been booed at public appearances, denounced by trade union leaders, and mocked on left-leaning blogs. Political commentators have written off his chances of re-election. For many Labour supporters, Brown is a traitor to the party's ideals. Dark rumours about the reasons for his apostasy have circulated at internet discussion fora. Some of the disenchanted say that Brown has been bought by Auckland's business elite; others say he is being blackmailed by right-wing members of the city council.

But we don't need conspiracy theories to explain Brown's decision to turn on Auckland's union movement. His political trajectory closely resembles the journeys taken by social democratic governments in places like Greece and Spain over recent years.

Brown campaigned for mayor promising a number of left-wing policies which appealed to voters in Auckland's south and west. His call for a major upgrade of Auckland's public transport system was particularly popular. As soon as he sat down in the mayoral office, though, Brown was made aware that the Tory government in Wellington was not keen on paying for a social democratic policy programme in Auckland. John Key was determined to cut rather than expand spending by local governments.

There were two ways in which Brown could have responded to National's attempt to stymie his agenda. He had the option of condemning Key's intransigence, and launching a campaign for more funding from Wellington for Auckland's problems, or accepting the fiscal restraints imposed by the Tories, and trying to deal with funding shortfalls by squeezing his own administration and constituents. Brown chose the second option when he decided to try to fund his policy programme by increasing the revenue from city-owned assets. Brown was soon demanding that POAL double the profits it made annually from Auckland's port. Brown hoped to plough the extra cash from the port into projects like the construction of a light rail network round central Auckland. Charged with boosting profits, the port bosses decided that they must slash their labour costs. A clash with the wharfies became inevitable.

Brown's decision to accept the fiscal straitjacket imposed by a larger and more powerful institution reminds us of the recent decisions of social democratic governments in nations like Greece and Spain to accept the dictates of foreign financial markets, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund. Faced with big debts caused by the global financial crisis of 2008, the Greek social democrats had the option of confronting the foreign banks and European bureaucrats which had helped create that crisis, or acceding to the demands of the bankers and bureaucrats. They chose, of course, the second path, and are now set, like Brown, for political oblivion.

The sad stories of Brown and of the Greek government offer us a lesson about the essential nature of social democracy. Social democratic parties like Labour have traditionally tried to use taxation and state regulation to civilise capitalism and make sure that some of the wealth of society is redistributed from big business to workers. During periods of fast economic growth, a social democratic government often finds it relatively easily to channel an increased share of wealth, in the form of wage rises and increased spending on services like education and health, towards its working class supporters.

But capitalism is an unstable system, prone to cycles of boom and bust. When the system is in crisis, the economic basis for social democracy's civilising mission disappears. Classes are polarised, as wage and tax demands cut deeply into bosses' profit margins. Industrial relations become a zero-sum game. Social democratic governments that come to power during economic crises cannot balance the interests of classes, but have to choose one class over another. Not every social democratic government elected in a period of crisis has been as supine as the Greek regime, or the wretched Len Brown.

New Zealand's first Labour government took office in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression, after promising an impoverished population jobs and a proper welfare state. The new government came under great pressure from local capitalists and British banks, but left-wing Labourites like John A Lee were determined to stare down these enemies. After the British threatened to call in the loans they had made to New Zealand, Lee and his allies called for Labour to thumb its nose at foreign financiers by defaulting on the country's debts. When right-wing newspapers launched a propaganda campaign against the Labour government, accusing it of wanting to impose a communist dictatorship on New Zealand, Labour responded by setting up a national radio network and using the airwaves to defend policies like its state housing programme. The achievements of the first Labour government came through confrontation with the political right and the capitalist classes of New Zealand and Britain.

In the twenty-first century, the governments of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia have both faced down capitalist revolts and implemented left-wing policy programmes. After his country's wealthy elite and the CIA organised a coup, a lockout, and a programme of assassinations against his supporters, Chavez encouraged Venezuelan workers and peasants to occupy and run by themselves factories, farms, and oil refineries. The balance of power in the country changed. Many grassroots members of Labour are calling for Brown's expulsion from their party, in the wake of his endorsement of the attack on Auckland's wharfies. But purging Brown will change nothing, because his political cowardice and opportunism is shared by the rest of Labour's establishment. Party leader David Shearer has repeatedly refused to take sides in the conflict on Auckland's waterfront, and some of his key advisers have criticised the city's wharfies. Josie Pagani, for example, used a recent appearance on Wellington's ZB radio station to condemn the union for not realising that 'flexibility' and 'casual labour' are 'the future', and have to be embraced. Shearer and Pagani are chips from the same rotten block as Brown. A Shearer-led Labour government would cave to the demands of big business and the right just as quickly and completely as Len Brown.

Instead of trying to expel Brown, Labour's grassroots members should remove themselves from the party. At the Ranui Cafe back in November I suggested to Carmel that she would be happier in the Mana Party than in what David Parker so proudly calls the 'party of fiscal responsibility'. The contrast this week between the cowardice of Brown and Shearer and Mana's gutsy challenge to foreign investors looking to rip off Kiwis once again shows which organisation has inherited the fighting spirit of John A Lee and his comrades.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

good to see labour members SLAMMING pagani for her anti-union bullshit on her facebook page. the circle around shearer is made up of people who admire tony blair. they want to cut labour off from all of its roots. shearer's upcoming policy speech will shock many party members.

1:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disgusting as well to see how pagani used feminism to have a dig at the wharfies. quote:

I've spent my political life as a working mum, calling for more flexibility. And flexibility has to work both ways. Sad that by the time MUNZ accepted this (why did it take them so long?), the Ports wouldn't budge. They should have. Lesson from this - if casual labour is the future, we have to work out how to protect the advances made for working people, while accepting that future.

what a fuckwit

1:17 am  
Blogger Marty Mars said...

Great post maps.

8:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

labour is a sad joke. they're back in 1951. actually worse than then.

8:53 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word is that David Shearer will shift Labour social policy sharply to the right in the next few days, as he appears on TV and gives a major speech.

9:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lmfao good on the port for fireing the useless union cock suckers

9:36 am  
Blogger Sandra said...

Thanks Maps. Spot on analysis in my view and encouraging to read.

9:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:36 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josie and John Pagani - the Mandelsons of Shearer's Labour

11:20 am  
Blogger Sanctuary said...

I am sure you are aware of the following (probably apocryphal) story told of Bob Semple: Upon Labour taking power in 1935, he arrived as newly appointed minister of works to confronted by any number of officials, with charts and graphs explaining why it would be impossible for Labour to actually fufill its election promises without printing money and rampant inflation. Semple heard them out, the said "well, you better crank up those printing presses then because we start on Monday".

I particularly like this story for several reasons. For to me it illustrates how a properly mandated socialist government should deal with the inherently reactionary technocrats and radical bureaucrats of the state apparatus. It shows in a practical way how the first Labour government was "determined to stare down its enemies" and confront them with a non-negotiable agenda. The Radio New Zealand story is also a fine example of how Labour in 1935 were not afraid to appropriate the levers of power bend them to their own end. Mention the idea today of a Labour government, say, turning TVNZ into an unabashed left wing TV station, tripling the funding to RNZ to do the same and taking over Kiwi FM as a sort of leftish BCC1 and you'll be accused of plotting for communist-style state of the media by every media hack of every nominal hue.

Today I simply cannot understand why the Labour is so afraid to confront capital and the right. WHY is this? I think the central question for the left is to ask why nowadays the established supposed vehicle for socialist reform is made up of people who appear so scared of the capitalist class that one suspect they would literally shit themselves with fear if they actually had to confront the right wing in an ideological stoush. Is it because the elite cadre party that is now Labour is drawn from that fraction of the middle class that is liberal in outlook and sympathetic to (but not part of) the poor, working poor and working class? To many on the left show to much respect for the law in the ridiculous belief that the justice is actually blind or even handed. Could it be the left has also succumbed to the baby boomer values of rampant materialism and selfishness? I've been having an increasingly acrimonious argument with Russell Brown that I think turns centrally on this last point. I now (finally) get that he and the rest of the baby boomer liberals simply doesn't "get" the idea of collectivism and it's rejection of the primacy of the centrality of the individual, always. I wonder how much of the cowardice in the face of impacable capitalist power is because the people who lead Labour don't want to lose their nice consumer items and their comfortable upper middle class lifestyles.

I would like to hear you views on the utter paralysis of the mainstream left these days, and on its ideological bankruptcy. I mean, surely David Shearer can't be an admirer of Tony Blair? FFS, Blair is a discredited war criminal who destroyed the British Labour for the sake of power. Why would you admire that man and that legacy?

PS but only reply when the needs of junior are met!

1:48 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

Why admire Blair? Well, the bit where he finally managed to do what no UK Labour leader since Callaghan had done, ie win an election, that seems a pretty good reason to admire him.

Maps' idolisation of Lee is hilarious. Lee was an egomaniac who, in one of the great feats of political incompetence in NZ history, attacked Savage as he lay dying.

The claim that Labour has a majority on the Auckland Council is false.

Carmel Sepuloni had more influence on the course of events as a MP than not; why should she throw away that for the impotent purity of the Mana Party?

If you read that Facebook page, you'll see Draud (something or other at Princes St) ripping into Pagani, followed by Enzo Giordani (something or other out in Waitakere) basically telling her to get stuffed. The MUNZ is an affiliate of the Labour Party, not Mana. Why you want those people to give up our party to Pagani and not the other way around is beyond me.

The general obsession of the artistic left with aesthetic politics is quite repulsive.

4:35 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

Ps. this would be the speech where Harawira harangued respected left wing journalists for daring to ask questions of him? Yeah, that's really the organisation I want to spend my time in.

8:03 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

"Why admire Blair? Well, the bit where he finally managed to do what no UK Labour leader since Callaghan had done, ie win an election, that seems a pretty good reason to admire him."

David Lange won two elections in a row. How admirable.

9:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blair as the model for a Labour leader Keir? Did you miss the last ten years?

9:16 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

Yeah, actually, I do think that Lange's ability to win elections was a pretty good thing.

I don't like where the Blair government ended up. But I do think that there were a lot of things he did that were admirable, and many things he did that the New Zealand Labour Party can and should replicate. Functioning messaging strategies, that's one. Competent party discipline, that's another. Charismatic leadership would be nice.

Policy wise? Yes yes Blair was a disaster. Campaigning wise? He was very very good. If I found out Shearer didn't admire Blair I'd be slightly worried. Blair was the best salesman the British Labour Party ever had & you have to respect that.

9:48 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

"Functioning messaging strategies, that's one. Competent party discipline, that's another. Charismatic leadership would be nice."

He traded those off for the principles of the party, cementing a right wing consensus in economic and welfare policy amongst the two major parties in this country that has remained largely unbroken (as comrade Shearer is about to demonstrate again). That completely fucked us up. I like how you seem to think that the two things can somehow be separated.

10:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

keir there is an outcry in labour about jp's words - it is not just a few voices

check out the standard debate

pagani is one of shearer's close supporters

10:13 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

Hmm? I think you are confusing my comments about Blair and Lange; no one has ever accused Lange of competent party discipline...

But I do think that Blair's technical skills can be separated from what he did to the British Labour Party; or, rather, I think it is possible to learn from one but not the other.

10:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good comment from the standard

You’ve sipped of the koolaid, Josie. Yes, there is a massive drive towards casualisation of the workforce coming. It’s closing in from all sides, and you seem to want to greet it with a smile and a ‘how can I help you?’

But the trend is not coming from workers wanting more flexibility to be with their families. It’s coming from employers who want it all their own way – i.e. hours to suit them, not you. Nothing’s changed, Josie.

There are only a few ‘contractors’ who are powerful enough in their skill set to dictate terms to an employer. The majority of ‘contractors’ will always be people who were forced into it against their will and serve on the whim of their masters.

As for your answer ‘how can we protect them?’, the simple answer is that you can’t. That’s what a ‘contractor’ is. Someone with no employment protections. That’s why employers want them.

It’s a future of uncertainty, with no idea how many hours you will be working a week, a fear of going out or making plans in case you are called in at a moment’s notice, a fear of getting sick, of being unable to get a mortgage because you have no stable employment. And you know that if you can’t come in and do what is required, they will simply call someone else. And they may not call you ever again. Workers as competing units with no solidarity and no bargaining power.

It is nothing less than dissolution of everything Labour has ever fought for and a return to the bad old days.

Labour politicians are elected to stand up for those who are downtrodden in our community. If you start selling them out because you have accepted that the big boys are just too powerful to take on, then there is no point in you being there.

10:18 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:29 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

But I do think that Blair's technical skills can be separated from what he did to the British Labour Party; or, rather, I think it is possible to learn from one but not the other.

The way he himself tells it - read My Journey if you don't believe me - is that he manipulated the various components of the party, lying to most of them along the way. Even if you were somehow inclined to take the cynical view that this skill could be used to advance progressive policies, it would very naive indeed to think that the powers that reshaped the Labour party as a machine for advancing neoliberalism would be available to dismantle that same machine. It ain't gonna happen. Shearer instead is going to dupe the social democratic base of the party by positioning Labour again as the very marginally lesser of two evils. But of course being sick sick and tired of this carry on qualfies one as a narcissist aesthete, so it's all good.

10:31 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

Pagani, for all that's she meant to be in with Goff and all that, didn't get the nod for Mana (thanks largely to the unions esp the SFWU who backed Faafoi) and ended up campaigning in the total dead end of Rangitikei.

In fact, as many people have pointed out, on that page I see that (aside from Soraiya and Enzo) there's John Ryall (Nat'l Sec'y SFWU) Darien Fenton (MP etc), and Nicola Wood (YL VP) all putting the boot in. The running tally of Labour Party officialdom is swinging pretty hard against Pagani there.

(Pagani, by the way, is ex-alliance. Which is one of the ways that there's more going on than just a simple left/right issue here. After all, Faafoi, who won the Mana selection with the servos backing, was Goff's press sec'y...)

Sorry for the descent into the weeds, but one of the fundamentally irritating aspects of this kind of discussion is the lack of knowledge of internal processes in the party. And yes that's the party's fault for being ridic opaque.

10:34 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

The way he himself tells it - read My Journey if you don't believe me - is that he manipulated the various components of the party, lying to most of them along the way.

I have a friend (Hayden Munro) who's doing his MA in Pols atm and has told me very much the same thing, but with more sophisticated political jargon. In fact Munro's posted a version of that here, here, and here. (Munro worked on Megan Woods' campaign in Wigram, and is I think very very good.)

I don't disagree with any of the condemnations of Blair's destruction of internal party democracy. But at the same time, Blair was very good at some things, and an inability to learn from Blair the way Cameron, Obama, Clark, and Key have is fatal.

And Gio, don't be daft, I don't think your politics is narcissistic or that of an aesthete. I don't disagree if you think that the Labour party isn't worth your time.

I do think there's something quite unpleasant about the way Hamilton presumes --- based on a pretty fucking shallow analysis --- to tell people who've spent a lot more time in the trenches the best way for them to advance their causes. (There's something dreadfully patronising about the image of the writer telling John Ryall or Carmel Sepuloni that Mana's the party for them.) Especially irritating is the resort to the aesthetic tropes of J A Lee* (like I say, one of New Zealand's most incompetent politicians), the legendary First Labour Government, and so-on. It's just a collection of nice sounding words, things that are unquestionably leftier-than-thou.

* true fact: I have yet to see a Labour Party bookshelf that didn't have a copy of Lee's autobiography. Including Fraser House's. This probably just means Lee was a much better writer than the rest.

11:15 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Of course old Lee was no saint. Besides being a verifiable egomaniac, he had some nasty attitudes to Catholics and conshies. And he wasn't the most systematic and coherent political thinker.

The point I was making, though, was that Lee, unlike so many contemporary Labour leaders, was prepared to fight hard for reforms in the midst of economic crisis and right-wing hysteria. He wasn't afraid of offending Tories and bankers.

I spent some of the Xmas-New Year period wandering around some of the suburbs of Auckland and Hamilton and admiring the state housing programme Lee put in motion (Hamilton's Hayes Park is particularly interesting, a sort of relatively modest, functional Kiwi-style monument to socialist idealism). What recent Labour politician has left a legacy to compare with Lee's?

I like Gregor McLennan's diagnosis of Blairism as a 'vehicular ideology':

11:45 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Keir thinks Mana is too small to have much of a political impact, but at today's rally at Auckland's port a rather glum-looking group of Labour leaders ended up standing in front of a row of Mana Party flags, and David Shearer had to wait for the MC to praise the work Mana has been doing supporting the wharfies before he got his chance to speak.

Labour tried to drive a stake through Mana's heart last year, and has repeatedly denounced the party as 'extremist', but Hone's outfit has distinguished itself during hostilities on the waterfront, and has - along with Greens - dragged Labour into the battle. Shearer clearly didn't want to be at yesterday's rally - but he didn't dare be anywhere else.

In his talk to the rally, Shearer seemed to be playtesting Pagani's argument that casualisation is historically inevitable, and that it can, if unions have the right attitude and strategy, be turned into something worker-fiendly.

Shearer asserted early in his speech that Labour recognised 'the need for flexibility' on the waterfront, but argued that this flexibility had to be achieved as a result of a 'fair process' between employers and employees. His criticisms of POAL concern process, not the basic wrongness of casualisation.

It would be fair to say that Shearer's speech didn't bring the house down.

The trade union speakers at today's rally were far more militant than Shearer. They denounced casualisation as inherently objectionable, they invoked the great battle of 1951 and a slew of more recent struggles involving Aussie and American wharfies, and one or two of them used words like 'bourgeoisie', 'imperialism', and 'capitalism'. It is Mana and the small far left groups which are putting forward strategic and tactical suggestions consistent with this sort of internationalist rhetoric. Expect calls for the creation of a mass active picket and for the occupation of the waterfront to grow in number and frequency over coming days.

12:55 am  
Anonymous Keir said...

Keir thinks Mana is too small to have much of a political impact,

Er, no. I think Mana is run by someone who is not terribly attractive to voters, and who has trouble working with others. I don't think that Mana has much in the way of robust internal procedures either; as far as I can tell Harawira is In Charge, and that's that. I don't think that's a particularly pleasant prospect.

Yes, of course Shearer didn't want to be there. No politician wants to lose control over message. No politician wants to be put in the position of leaving as many hostages to fortune as involvement in employment disputes does. (Remember, the Maritime Union is not that popular with most NZers. Sucks but it's true.) And yes, Shearer's going to be less militant than the waterside worker's union. (Almost every union in New Zealand is less militant than the wharfies, let alone the leader of a party that, like it or nor, has to appeal across New Zealand.)

On the casualisation argument: actually, it's a bit simplistic to say it's a Pagani argument. Pagani's statement is repellent, no question. But there is a legitimate discussion over the fact that the days of a job for life are gone for most people, that the union has to start organising for casual, short-term and fixed-term workers, and that it is still possible to organise and win conditions and wages for people not in jobs-for-life. (The examplar here is always Hollywood.) This is something that needs to be discussed and dealt with, and if the unions don't do it, then the bosses will do it for them.

2:06 am  
Anonymous AHD said...

Keir, your reality claims are repellent.

What appeals to me about Labour politics is that it is concerned with doing what is right by those who are outside the systems of power. The POAL have constructively dismissed the workers for wanting a living wage and decent working conditions. If it doesn't appeal to a very broad base I say so be it. A patient, on-message exposition of how MUNZ have been screwed over would demonstrate why the Labour party is right for everyone in unions or on low-wages.

Most importantly for me, the party is about more than temporary political appeal, it is about social transformation. Why is that dream, one so central to leftist politics, being given up?

And if Josie Pagani wants flexible working conditions then she can go and work split shifts on the docks for fuck all for the rest of her life and see how she enjoys it.

9:31 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:53 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

"Yes, of course Shearer didn't want to be there. No politician wants to lose control over message. No politician wants to be put in the position of leaving as many hostages to fortune as involvement in employment disputes does."

The idea that the leader of a Labour party may have mixed feelings about being given the opportunity to address a workers' rally is, in itself, the mirror of how far the party has slid in New Zealand. Its Italian counterpart is hardly terribly staunch but its secretary would have relished such an opportunity, as he regularly does. I think the conventional wisdom on display here should give us great pause.

10:03 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

As for Keir's point that Pagani doesn't represent the party leadership and was pulled up in that facebook thread by several party members at various levels of the hierarchy, it is well taken, and one of my issues with the Sepuloni post is that it twisted the internal dynamics of the party to make a point. That said, fuck the internal dynamics of the party. What counts is what Shearer says next week, and I suspect that - whilst he will probably not display the heroic levels of stupidity of Ms Pagani - it will be functionally equivalent.

10:06 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

There was a curious contrast between Shearer and Cunliffe at yesterday's rally.

The Labour MPs were arrayed on a low hill, and Cunliffe found himself one of the more prominent spots on the hill, so that he loomed over Shearer. Where Shearer stood quietly with stooped shoulders in an uncomfortable-looking suit, Cunliffe, who appears to be growing some sort of beard, was clad in a T shirt and jeans, and kept busy waving to supporters and whooping approval for speakers' key points. He looked a lot more relaxed and confident than the man who defeated him for the Labour leadership.

I think yesterday's protesters were happy to see Shearer and other Labour MPs turn up, and wanted the Labour leader use his speech to put himself unequivocally behind the wharfies.

But Shearer's words were careful and rather bloodless. He was applauded politely, but generated much less enthusiasm than either the American and Aussie union leaders or Green spokesperson Denise Roche. A few protesters heckled him - one man, for instance, kept shouting "Why are you sitting on the fence?"

I suspect Shearer was aware that in a few days he would be giving a major speech which would move Labour to the right on a number issues, including the question of the party's relationship with unions. He didn't want to say anything to contradict the upcoming speech.

11:02 am  
Anonymous Keir said...

That said, fuck the internal dynamics of the party. What counts is what Shearer says next week [...]

Yes, I agree. But if you want to discuss the best thing for members (and often quite powerful members) of the party to do, you do have to deal with internal party dynamics. Whether or not you want to vote for them, you don't need to care. But once you start giving Sepuloni tactical advice about how to attain her goals, you've opened yourself up to that discussion.

It's also academically shallow, in that it reduces quite complex interplays between people into simplistic slogans that really don't correspond to what's happening.

And I agree that the fact the Maritime Union is (arguably) unpopular is deeply concerning, is deeply important, and is something that needs work. But Shearer can't do that himself, especially in opposition --- politicians have very limited abilities to shift public opinion on issues. (Generally it just puts the issue onto a partisan footing; I am sure I don't have to explain why that would be a bad thing.) And, dare I say it, MUNZ has to own some of that itself.

What's attractive about Labour Party politics is the bit where we hold the Treasury Benches and run the country for the benefit of the many not the few, or whatever the slogan is this week. It's not the bit where in opposition we make romantic speeches. (Apart from anything, they just don't work.)

12:56 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

"But Shearer can't do that himself, especially in opposition --- politicians have very limited abilities to shift public opinion on issues. (Generally it just puts the issue onto a partisan footing; I am sure I don't have to explain why that would be a bad thing.)"

What the leader of the opposition says carries not insignificant weight. His support of port workers would matter. And how's never taking a partisan position been working out for the party of late?

To say nothing of the fact that of course Shearer partially endorsing the Nats' welfare reform and going back to Clark-era-style not giving a fuck about beneficiaries (I don't think he's suicidal enough to pull a Len Brown on the unions) is going to point directly to how the Party is going to behave when - if - it holds the Treasury Benches again, and just whom the “many” and the “few” are.

2:16 pm  
Anonymous Olwyn said...

An interesting and insightful post Scott. Labour seems to have been caught on the hop, and are faced with a situation in which the "missionary position" they envisaged as being broadly appealing now looks hopelessly inadequate. I am waiting to see if the penny drops, for Len too. It is not too late just yet.

I also noted the ambivalence with which David Shearer spoke and with which he was received yesterday. From the point of view of members and workers he is faced with a serious trust problem: for one, he was chosen by the executive over their preferred candidate. For another, he has said nothing whatsoever that would rule out his heading something like an austerity program if he was elected. In fact his "back story" would seem to equip him to do just that while reassuring what remains of the middle class. And thirdly, his "unknown quantity" status may relieve him of baggage, but offers nothing, in the absence of a clear and unequivocal commitment, in which to place trust. All of the above rob him of the authority that his position demands.

If you look at the history of the last century, the driver of social democracy has mainly been the fears of the powerful. Fear of facing wars without loyal well-fed cannon fodder to fight hem, fear of Communist-type philosophies taking hold, and so on. It is not just about having a surplus to play with, it is also about the lesser-of-two evils, from a capo's rather than a worker's point of view. A social democratic party that tries to be the lesser-of-two-evils for workers rather than bosses only strikes fear and contempt in the hearts of those it claims to represent, and not those to whom it is allegedly opposed.

Finally, congratulations, Scott, on your new little boy.

2:57 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

What the leader of the opposition says carries not insignificant weight. His support of port workers would matter. And how's never taking a partisan position been working out for the party of late?

Of course Shearer has come out in support of the dock workers. He's appeared at their rallies, along with half the caucus, made speeches supporting them, etc etc. What more can he do? Like, what specific actions can he take that are not just `be more left-wing' or whatever?

Like, what's Shearer failing to do? Be sufficiently excited about re-enacting one of NZ labour's historic catastrophes?

3:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darien Fenton stepped into a Standard discussion to defend Shearer from accusations of half-heartedness
there is a perception he isn't more than 50% behind the unions

9:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Mayor Brown has decided against the hands off approach to this dispute that he has adopted so far. In a bold move to break the impasse Mayor Brown has offered to mediate between the Ports of Auckland Management and the Maritime Union.

Gary Parsloe for the Maritime Union has responded positively. Saying that he will meet any time any day.

So far there has been no reply from the Ports of Auckland.

If PoAL continue to ignore this offer of mediation, then;

MUNZ lawyers should seek an immediate injunction calling on PoAl to attend this mediation.

If the Ports of Auckland continue to ignore this offer of mediation from the Mayor of Auckland, it will be final proof positive in the pending court hearing of PoAL's lack of good faith.

In light of the Mayor's offer and mindful of the law requiring good faith bargaining, I think any judge will look favourably on an injunction and will order PoAl to attend this mediation.

9:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morales turns right

10:24 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

“Of course Shearer has come out in support of the dock workers. He's appeared at their rallies, along with half the caucus, made speeches supporting them, etc etc. What more can he do? Like, what specific actions can he take that are not just `be more left-wing' or whatever?”

He ought to have come out in support of the workers before they were sacked. Of course he had to show solidarity afterwards – it would have been unthinkable of him not to. And by all accounts his speech at the rally was pretty half-hearted. I wasn’t there, but I did have the misadventure of watching his Q&A interview, in which he said that until the breakdown he took a prudent position because he saw his role as helping the parties sit at the table, only to say three minutes later that the leader of the opposition has no power to make negotiating parties sit at the table. I think he’s scrambling, and I’m far from the only one.

1:20 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

Of course he's scrambling. I am not necessarily a fan of how Shearer's handled this, and I don't agree with Pagani's take, or the entirety of Shearer's*. I do think the facile you should all join Mana, and be like John Lee** quite frustrating.

* the bit where he seems to be on the right of the party & I'm not? yeah, that indicates possible political differences.

** i.e. hilariously unpopular, totally incompetent, and entirely ineffectual.

7:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shorter Keir: power is a freight train, and you have to get on board or be run over.

7:24 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Good post Maps. This Len Brown bastard should be hung from a high strong lamp post with piano wire.

And the big business creeps making massive money out of workers on the wharfs and trying to divide the unions.

The Unions have to forget all this legal stuff (unions need to be outside the law to be real) and take it directly to the Capitalists.

Labour is and always has been pretty useless.

(Blair was and is a creep. He should be tried as a war criminal beside Bush and others).

10:19 pm  
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7:58 pm  

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