A vision of workers’ freedom

(Workers Party address to Labour Day left of Labour election forum in Wellington)

It’s a nice change to be at a meeting where the right is excluded instead of the left. This year many Wellington election meetings only invited candidates holding parliamentary seats. The New Zealand Council of Trade unions hosted such a meeting. When I complained about being excluded, while National and ACT were given a platform, the CTU organiser emailed back “You’ll have to ask Helen Kelly.” CTU president Helen Kelly didn’t have the courtesy to reply. Instead, the next email in my box was an urgent notice from the CTU organiser, asking me to support a union picket downtown. I wonder if he sent the same appeal to his National and ACT guests.

That small incident is a reminder that political action takes place outside parliament as well as inside. The Workers Party think struggle outside parliament is more important, but we see elections as a chance to fight for our ideas.

OK, I want to tell you what we stand for and how we’re trying to go about it.

Workers produce all the goods and services which make modern society possible. But most of what we produce is taken by an exploiting class which produces nothing good itself. As Marx demonstrated for us so thoroughly, exploitation is built into the capitalist system and takes place at the actual point of production. When we get together and organise to get back some of the wealth taken off us, the employers and the government use anti-union laws and cops to stop us. If necessary they use their army. The permanent institutions of the capitalist state stand ever ready to protect wealth and privilege. This oppression extends to New Zealand capitalist interests over seas. For example the head of the force protecting the reactionary Tongan regime is a New Zealand police officer. They call him a peacekeeper, but he’s actually a feudalism protector.

Capitalism can’t be gradually reformed into fairness, as some would have us believe. The reverse is taking place. During my working lifetime there’s been a huge growth of inequality in New Zealand. Thousands of beneficiaries and low paid workers are viciously locked into poverty that will permanently blight their children’s future prospects. One child in 5 lives in poverty. Today thousands of workers suffer the curse of casualisation, while official statistics falsely describe them as ‘employed.’ Unionisation is down to about 12 per cent in the private sector, with all the disadvantages that brings. Understaffing, unsafe sites and totally unreasonable employment conditions are imposed on powerless individual toilers. Things have got worse under successive governments, because our problems are not just caused by malevolent or careless individuals, but by the demands of the system itself. While I respect Alliance comrades, I disagree with their view that if we crunch the numbers and cost out a full reform programme we can achieve it under the present system. As any union award advocate or assessor can attest, the most thoroughly researched, costed and reasoned arguments can be swept aside with a single bosses’ ‘No.’ When you’re backed by the state, class interests beat reasoned arguments every time. The Workers Party believes that our only solution is the removal of capitalism. And that only a revolutionary movement of the working class has the capacity to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism.

Building such a movement requires the advocacy of revolutionary ideas. It’s often hard to front for such ideas. That’s why there are occasional attempts by socialists to repackage themselves in more acceptable looking garb. I’ve been a party to several such attempts. For example, a magazine called The Paper and a movement called People First. Both of them failed. People rightly suspected that we were socialists in disguise and wondered why we weren’t open about what we believed. I think Socialist Worker comrades in RAM are running the same risk today.

There are other problems with leftist hidden agendas. They can mask unpleasant realities. To make a revolution, we must defend unpopular causes. Marx said that as long as they sided with their own ruling class against the Irish workers, British workers could never make a revolution. Today, proletarian internationalism demands that we in New Zealand argue for open borders.

We are what we constantly do. If we habitually offer reformist politics for public consumption we run the risk of becoming reformists. My own experience has taught me, if you don’t regularly openly argue for socialist ideas, you lose your ability to do so at all.

The Workers Party view of socialism is a vision of workers’ freedom. Freedom for workers to strike; freedom for gay and transgender people to marry; freedom for workers to move around the globe unrestricted by immigration controls. We also stand for full freedom of expression inside our organisation. That has attracted young people to our ranks. They see that the Workers Party is not a set of rigid old orthodoxies and that they can take initiatives without being constantly monitored.

There are also many weaknesses in our party, but after nearly 40 years of experience in left groups, I feel the Workers Party is the most worthwhile one I have been in and I am proud to be standing for it in Wellington Central.

Don Franks

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