The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

No vision (Happy 90th to Labour Part II)

A while back I posted about my frustrations with Labour, my sense that it isn't going to deliver any radical changes to the unjust society we live in, in a post entitled No Heart. Thanks to everyone for their comments on this post, I think it has been an interesting debate.

One of the things that is clear to me about Labour (both its leadership and many of its activists) is that it is wedded to an incremental approach, or "gradualism" as Jordan Carter explains it.

That's all well and good, and I can see the value of making slow changes to our capitalist society and economy, to make New Zealand more like a social democratic state, or even head towards socialism.

But I don't think that's really the Labour vision. Evidence is that as the leading part of this Government they don't in fact have much vision at all.

Idiot/Savant lays out exactly how Labour has failed the poor, in a post examining a survey on poverty in our fair isles. It's shocking reading.

I'm not suggesting there are overnight solutions to these things, but I do feel that Labour doesn't actually intend to address many of these problems. Maybe they do and they just aren't very good at communicating it.

Labour doesn't appear to be committed to a system of fully publically funded and publically controlled education for example. There seems to be no plan to bring in universal student allowances or abolish tuition fees, although there has been significant softening of the student loan scheme. But that just makes it more palatable and gives ROC Labour MPs excuses for not taking action on the causes of that mountain of debt. Not to mention the fact that school fees are becoming commonplace, kindergartens are starting to charge fees, and there is a great deal of confusion within the early childhood sector about how exactly the 2007 20 Hours Free is going to work, with less than a year to go now.

Labour has been doing better in health, to some extent. But there are massive deficits in many DHBs and apparently no intention to address this. Shouldn't deficits at public institutions send a message that they aren't being funded to an adequate level to deliver on Government's expectations?

What depresses me most is the failure of leadership I so often see from Labour. There seems to be an inability to communicate the vision thing, to take on the Opposition about some of their silly proclamations and policy ideas, and clearly state what Labour's plan is. Too many times I've seen Labour back down and mount a pathetic details argument when it should fight the big picture stuff. Tax is a good example - the Labour tacticians seem to think, despite years of evidence from the NZES, that any suggestion that our tax system needs overhaul to fund the aspirations of our nation will result in endless terms in the wilderness for Clark and her allies.

Sometimes you need to trust the public (more often than not I believe). You need to trust them with your vision, argue it honestly and clearly, and debate the big picture not try to sell it on the little details. A Labour party that did, with the left-wing values and policies I believe the bulk of its membership and supporters would be in favour of, that would be a Labour party I could consider giving my ticks to.

36 comments:

Meta[+]Analysis said...

Arguably the Labour Party did make the 'Big Picture Pitch' to the electorate in 1999, but I have a feeling that may have been more a symptom of the political dichotomy that was apparent to voters: more of the same failed reforms or a new vision. UK Labour had the same success in 97. Since then, though, they've found that nice rut in the centre that almost guarantees return to office, and that seems more important than the vision. Its a sad thing, and I agree with your sentiments.

Gerrit said...

The vote is in the middle ground thus policies must be there as well. Pragmatism rules.

I have the same problem with the National party. Lack of documented vision.

Problem for the socialists is that there are not enough people in New Zelalnd who believe that the soviet system is good for them.

Hence while they champion the Labour party they do so reluctantly because there is no alternative.

How come the socialist dont form their own parliamentary party. If you believe that your policies are the best for New Zealland set visions for that party (The Alliance?) and get New Zealanders to vote for you.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

_Nobody_ wants to duplicate the Soviet system. The problem for socialists is that too many people think we do, even though the Soviet Union dictatorship was utterly against all socialist principles. And unfortunately, getting people to vote for you isn't easy or cheap.

span said...

What CMT said.

Also I'd note that I get a sense sometimes from the Labour leadership that they feel their work is largely done - that the ideas they come up with the grab the votes and support of the population are not part of a bigger vision but exist purely for re-election purposes. Eg wiping interest on student loans. I'm really really glad they did it, but it doesn't seem to be part of any larger plan to roll back the cost of tertiary education.

Jordan said...

Span: maybe your timescale is too short?

span said...

Jordan: can't decide that without some indication of what Labour's timescale is, and so far there isn't a public one in most areas...

Gerrit said...

CMT

Shows how socialists need to have marketing skills. Personally have always assocciated socialism with soviet style repression. What is the socialist agenda for New Zealand if not soviet style socialism?

It would seem from Span's earlier posts that the Alliance Party has a real problem getting someone on board to paint a picture, of suitable clarity, that voters can make a decision on and vote for.

Hence the desire to try and persuade the Labour party to adopt more socialistic policies.

How would you replace capatalism?

Kane said...

Labour's very slow incrementalism (and it's not always leftwards) is useless and frustrating.

After seven years, the wealthy and middle classes have continued to gain, while a lot of working class people are struggling to simply make ends meet - with rising electricity bills, priced out of buying a home (while landlords line their already fat pockets), priced out of degree level tertiary education, stagnant and low wages with eroding work place conditions and democracy, amongst having to combat a range of neo-liberal policies that Labour have never exterminated.

Why hasn't Labour challenged the awful privatisation and foreign corporate buy ups that took place in the 1980s and 1990s? Labour are gutless and have been quite happy to see billions leave NZ each year that could have been reinvested back into public health and education and other essential infrastructure.

National's (along with their allies) return to the government benches in 2008 would be a nightmare. However, Labour has no fire in their belly and they're afraid to upset the middle classes. Labour should stop masquarading in drag and position themselves as the middle class liberal party that they are and let a real party of the Left represent the interests of workers, beneficiaries, students and pensioners.

Of course Labour aren't going to have a bar of that and a Left party needs to do the work. We know what Labour did to Laila Harre and the Alliance in Waitakere in 2002. However, I know that a party of the Left will flourish again some day, that includes comrades from the Alliance and other leftists.

Gerrit said...

Which industries would a socialist government nationalise?

How would a workers democratic workplace function?

Do they need to show a return on investment to the People (the investors) like private, public and People (government) owned SOE companies do now to their shareholders?

As a fat landlord whose tenant is a solo mum and two kids and capatilist pig to boot who has just invested $50,000 for machinery to start a new business and who is contemplating remorgaging the house to invest another $250,000, buy more machinery (and employ two workers) to fulfill export orders, I'm keen to find out if I will be recompensated for my outlay if the People decide to nationalise my houses and businesses.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

No, no recompense, but on the other hand, you won't have to pay off that mortgage either. Where did you get that $50,000 from in the first place?

Return on investment would be measured very differently, taking in to account social and environmental factors, not just the bottom line. But with no commercial sensitivity excuse, they'd be open to public scrutiny to ensure they aren't wasting money.

See Argentina for some examples of how democratic workplaces can function.

The socialist agenda is big on personal freedom and democracy, and ensuring a decent standard of living for all. It's opposed to people earning money by having money, since that leads to an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor.

All left wing parties have the problem that their key constituency, the poor, by definition can't afford to fund them well. When the media ignores them and they don't have the resources to effectively publicise themselves independently, marketing is rather difficult.

PabloR said...

Well are we talking Socialism or Social Liberalism? My own feeling is that Socialism is inconsistant with the welfare state because (a) it perpetuates capitalism, and (b) socialism requires everyone to work (in the widest sense) for the common good.

The key question here is Gerrit's: with what do you replace capitalism?

Gerrit said...

CMT

Savings, Redundancy and Super. After working for 30 years to pay off the first house we have remorgaged to buy a rental property. Still have enough equity in the property to finace business expansion. I guess with assets of around $500,000 I am considered by the socialists as a rich capitalist pig. Even though i earn less then $40,000 from the business.

Also I'm taking the risk (for hopefully long term rewards) of expanding the business and employing staff.

How under a socialist system would this type of enterprise be rewarded?

How do you know when the gap beween the poor and rich has closed enough?

When by definition will the poor have enough assets (as opposed to money) to be rich?

PabloR said...

Gerritt, do you see then how you have been suckered by capitalism? Under a socialist system you would have shared the risk with your fellow workers and shared the rewards with them. When you retire, you will continue to share those rewards as you will share your expertise with the next generation.

And yes. You will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Gerrit said...

Just as I thought.

Bring it on!!

Lucyna said...

I think the Labour Party are doing quite well to further the Socialist agenda. Destruction of the middle class, reduction of private home ownership, increasing numbers of unmarried people (huge explosion in single mothers) having children - thus replacing the family. What is the problem?

Gerrit said...

Instead of having been suckered by Capitalism I have used it to further my own situation.

Not bad for a dirt poor immigrant with no English and no formal schooling! ( Who incedently worked in South Auckland factories and was an Engineers Union delegat)

What is crystal clear is that socialism will never work because the promoters of it do not know how it is going to work in the a "real" sense. (as opposed to theoretical university ideology)

While they deride capitalism and hate bosses they cannot formulate a stratigic transition from capitalism to socialism.

That is why Span the Labour party doesn't want a bar of your total socialist agenda.

It is not a workable proposition.

Also Span can I be present when you tell Maoridom that under your socialist regime all their land will revert to the People? (no private ownership remember).

Should make the foreshore and seabed shindig look like a kindergarden picnic.

Revolution the answer? Your AK47 againt my M16 I say.

Gerrit said...

Instead of having been suckered by Capitalism I have used it to further my own situation.

Not bad for a dirt poor immigrant with no English and no formal schooling! ( Who incedently worked in South Auckland factories and was an Engineers Union delegat)

What is crystal clear is that socialism will never work because the promoters of it do not know how it is going to work in the a "real" sense. (as opposed to theoretical university ideology)

While they deride capitalism and hate bosses they cannot formulate a stratigic transition from capitalism to socialism.

That is why Span the Labour party doesn't want a bar of your total socialist agenda.

It is not a workable proposition.

Also Span can I be present when you tell Maoridom that under your socialist regime all their land will revert to the People? (no private ownership remember).

Should make the foreshore and seabed shindig look like a kindergarden picnic.

Revolution the answer? Your AK47 againt my M16 I say.

Gerrit said...

Apologies

Should have said no formal tertiary education , left school after two years in the 5th Form with SC.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

Promoters of socialism do not know how it is going to work in the a "real" sense? Yes we do. The practical details of the total transformation of society and the economy can't be summed up neatly in a comment on a blog, though, so please give examples of specific aspects you don't think could work. You asked how a workers' democratic workplace would function - this has been demonstrated very successfully in Argentina. See http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2004-03/18trigona.cfm for one article on the subject. What else "wouldn't work"?

As Maori are currently amongst the most exploited and deprived segments of society, they have the most to gain from socialism. The Maori working class will be part of any effective socialist movement, not a separate group which will have it imposed upon them. Majority support for socialism is an absolute prerequisite for establishing a socialist state.

PabloR said...

The reason I am probably no longer a socialist is because I am not convinced the system can work on an industrial scale (at least, it hasn't so far). I don't have a high enough opinion of human nature either to expect a successful transformation of society or the economy to work.

That said, I am happy to be reconvinced. The misnomer that the right like to peddle about socialism is that it makes everybody poor, when its basic tennat is that society produces enough to make everybody rich, just nobody richer than everyone else.

Jordan said...

Span - I completely agree. I think public debates and so on are vital and are not happening. But I don't think the absence of them means there is the absence of a timeline...

Gerrit said...

CMT

Interesting article. Comments

1. It was an abandoned factory. The workers didnt have to evict the owners. I would think the if you tried to confiscate by force operational factories and workplaces you may need to bring some AK47's

2. While the factory is around 15% operational there is no indication that production will increase.

3. If they wanted to increase production by say purchasing new equipment how will the workers get the equipment? Remember you are in a socialistic system not a capitalistic one.

4. Unless you are able to take over all the worlds workplaces in one go, the factory will need to sell its product in a capitalistic world. Same problems as in comment 3.

while I think the actions of the workers in Argentina is laudable and shows great initiative, I just cannot see you replicating it across the globe.

In my opinion, socialism as you perceive it wont take over the capitalistic system.

There is hope for you however as Jordan seems to be privy to a hidden Agenda that the labour party will bring out shortly.

Mmmmm..... wonder what they will nationalise. Oil companies would be a good place to start.

While Maori might be overly represented in low wage employment I cannot see them giving up their land and more importantly their assets (fishing, logging, etc.) hat is on their land.

Will be your AK47's against theirs.

Will look forward to your selling techniques and persuasive powers to convince them.

PabloR said...

The lesson from that story for me is the peaceful nature of the workers and community contrasted with the violent nature of the government and the former owners (why evict the workers if the factory had been abandoned? because they had proved the place still had value). Capital raising is an issue for this community, though in an ideal socialist state it would not be a problem at all. (the capital upgrades would be owned by the collective as well)

Gerrit said...

Reading other material posted on the internet regarding the ceramic factory is awesome and I can see it is an inspiration to all.

Noone can support corrupt governments or unethical corporate behavior.

Reminds me a lot of how the union movement works in the USA. One electrican union I know of is the actual employer of its members. The union organises the members by gaining electrical construction work and then organising its members to complete the contracts. (not sure if they tender for work or subcontract its members to electrical construction companies) The union also runs the apprenticeship schemes, competence certification plus handles work site safety for its members. Have a close relative who has done his apprenticeship through the union and now works for them. Pay is above standard electrical rates.

I think the future of organised labour is much more aligned to this type of endeavour then the confrontation socialist them (bad capitalist bosses) vesus us (underpaid, hardworking workers)agenda currently being set in New Zealand.

Span, While this may be off topic for this post is it worthwhile exploring this option for organised labour reforms in another post? Think it falls inline with Jordan's request for more debates.

As a potential employer I would rather deal with a union that provided me with the workers I need at mutually agreed to employment contracts.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

Note that the original question has been answered; the existence of unlimited potential followup questions doesn't invalidate that.
1) Who is going to be shooting those AK47s? The workers get an instant payrise upon nationalisation, so they're on our side, and the bosses aren't likely to take up arms themselves against the workers (aside from the personal risk, what use is a factory without workers?).
2) Over 70 additional workers have been hired since the workers took over, and they plan to hire more.
3) Zanon is an isolated factory, not a complete socialist economy. More generally, if a socialist state needs increased production from a factory, it will provide the necessary new equipment at no charge to the workers.
4) Zanon manages to sell what it produces. More generally, a socialist state in a capitalist world should concentrate on producing what it needs for itself, rather than for trade with hostile nations. Shipping stuff half way round the world is mostly rather inefficient. But there would be other states happy to trade with a socialist state.

Most Maori don't benefit from those assets.

Gerrit said...

CMT

You are getting further from converting me. Now you have created a class called the State that will decide if workers can have the equipment to increase production.

A scenario that pops to mind is if the state has limited funds and the workers still want to purchase new equipment. In an ideal socialist world this would not happen off course.

How is the State funded? Does it collect from the workers what in the capiltalistic sense is called profit? Who sets the level of State funding from the work place? Could the workers pay themselves more and donate less to the State?

To me the State has become the new boss class. I guess the workers can vote for their representatives in the State.

Anyway it has been nice discussing this with you My final thoughts are that all we are doing is changing from private enterprise bosses to State bosses.

I think I'll stick in the private enterprise, capitalistic system.

Cheers

PabloR said...

If I could just get one in under the wire...

Gerritt, I can see your point, but you need to stop thinking about money and thinking about production and productivity.

The state doesn't have limited funds because it has no need of funds. It knows that somewhere in the economy the machinery is being produced and it facilitates the transfer of that product, the capital goods, to the factory that requires them. If it works efficiently (and it really needs to be a closed economy - no need for external trade to do so) the state merely helps the transfer of goods, the transfer of money is unecessary.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

The need or lack thereof for increased production has nothing to do with what workers want, it's determined by the needs and wishes of the consumers. If extra resources are needed to meet increased demand, then it's the state's job to provide them, and to prioritise when not all requested resources can be provided immediately. This does not impact on the worker's freedom to manage for themselves the resources they do have. The state would be democratic, and the state administrators wouldn't be paid any better than anyone else.

There's no difference in nature between tax and profit; the only difference is what is done with it after collection. Tax goes back to help society, profit goes to make a ruling class richer. The level of state funding is decided democratically, and would be the same for all revenue-generating workplaces. If the majority throughout the state (not just at one factory) wanted higher pay and corresponding reduced social services, then yes, that would happen.

Gerrit said...

Awww OK one final comment. Cant resist. Who has the arbitory responsibility in a socialist state for conflict resolution? Paint a picture if you will of the Zanon ceramic factory workers needing to dig up more clay to keep production up. However the clay is under the farm where xxyyzz cooperative workers grow cabbages to give (no money in a socialist system?) to the Zanon workers for their daily rations. Who decides which enterprise is allowed to keep functioning. The ruling State bosses class? Especially if consensus cant be reached between the pottery workers and cabbage growers.

As the State controls land usage I guess they can tell aabbcc tree growing cooperative to chop down a section of trees and let the xxyyzz workers grow their cabbages there.

The no money one is also interesting. How will the pottery worker making a durable item trade with the cabbage grower who needs to pass his perishables on daily. One gets a picture of the cabbage grower cooperative having to trade the pottery with the baking cooperative for their daily bread. In this case the pottery has become the currency (money) to lubricate the trading.

Span, Thanks for letting us have this dicussion on your blog. Most interesting. And no I cant see Labour becoming a totally socialist party.

As an Alliance member you are better pushing their barrow. Looking forward to the Alliance policy statements.

PabloR said...

I would venture to say that Marx wasn't able to iron out all of the kinks apparent in a socialist paradise!

span said...

No worries about having this debate here, I'm just sorry that due to work taking over most waking hours I haven't been able to debate too! Life should return to normal a bit more next week, so expect more posting then.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

Personally I'm all in favour of keeping money as a means of allocating resources. Abolish interest, inheritance, and any other way of getting money other than working for a fair wage (or via welfare) so that inequality doesn't build up, but keep money.

Yes, conflict resolution is one of the legitimate purposes of a state. Clay or cabbages - that depends on which is more useful to society at the time. Possibly the issue could be decided by referendum (local or statewide) if it's sufficiently important. Whichever enterprise loses out, the state provides economic security and assistance with retraining/finding new work for its former workers.

Gerrit said...

And the State bosses decided that they had enough cups and plates for now (in a socialist system the workers have only one customer, the State while in a capitalist system they have billions) while the State still needing to feed the People cabbages.

They close the Zanon plant and tell the workers "We need more cabbages so you will all relocate to the forestry commune to help them chop down trees and then create a new cabbage growing commune".

The Zanon pottery workers are now slaves to the State bosses class having traded a capitalist master for a State one.

Maybe they will snub their noses at the State bosses and occupy the pottery factory and start selling cups and plates to the outside capitalist customers!!

The only way workers can be totally free is in participating in the capitalist system like the electrical union is doing in the USA or through individual endeavour like I have done.

Looking forard to the day when the cleaners union takes on cleaning contracts and starts to employ its own workers.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

And what are these rogue factory workers going to make the cups and plates out of, if the only source of clay is under the cabbage farm? Who are they going to sell them to if there's no demand? (a democratic, transparent, accountable state does not shut down production of something that's actually needed.)

Gerrit said...

Exactly my point CMT.

The State bosses class have to make a decision on which set of workers are going to be out of a job.

The workers do not have a say. They are as still slaves to a master and not any freer under a socialist regime than a capitalist one.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

They have much more freedom in their day-to-day lives - shutting down a factory would not be a routine event. We live on a planet with finite resources, so this factory _has_ to shut down eventually; that's nothing to do with slavery. And being out of a job is far less of a problem under socialism; if a job ceases to be needed, the state gives the worker enough welfare to ensure that they don't have any financial difficulty while finding a new job. There would _definitely_ not be a forced relocation to the forestry commune; people would be able to chose which vacancies to apply for just as now.