Greens co-leader fails to stand up for striking workers

russelnorman

- Jared Phillips

Yesterday after the march to the McDonald’s bosses conference at the Hyatt Hotel we returned to the Queen Street store. I was the last union official there with about 30 workers (the numbers had dropped-off by this stage). Workers were blocking-off the entrance. The strikers were fired-up.

I noticed Russel Norman, Green Party co-leader, amongst the gathered spectators. On some other business, he had bumped into the strike.

He was watching for about 5 minutes.

Politically I oppose the Green Party because they are a pro-capitalism party but A) They have had some connection to Unite through the Youth Rates campaign, and B) in hard struggles workers draw strength from almost any source of support. So in my capacity as an organiser I approached Russel Norman and asked him if he would speak to the strikers. First he said he didn’t know the issues. So I told him the issues. He still said no. I pressed him again but ‘No it’s ok’.

But it’s not ok. All the ‘left commentators’ are saying vote Green.

But the Green leader, obviously a developed public speaker, couldn’t spare 5 minutes for the lowest paid. We need a party that is shoulder to shoulder with the lowest paid.

33 Responses to Greens co-leader fails to stand up for striking workers

  1. Russel says:

    I was rushing for a media gig when I saw a protest so instead of carrying on I crossed the street and went and stood with the protesters and had a chat. I didn’t know what it was about but wanted to support them. Some guy asked me to speak but I felt it wasn’t right given that I was a poorly informed passer by.

    The funny thing is that the far right call us commies and ultralefts call us capitalists!

    Russel Norman

  2. John Edmundson says:

    Russel Norman writes:
    “The funny thing is that the far right call us commies and ultralefts call us capitalists!”

    In a capitalist world, you’re either with the capitalists or you’re against them. Sitting on the fence is not a comfortable place to be. So who’s correct here? The far right???
    Cheers,
    John

  3. Alastair Reith says:

    ” Some guy asked me to speak but I felt it wasn’t right given that I was a poorly informed passer by.”

    You’re the co-leader of the Green Party Russell. You have a public profile and people know who you are. It would have mean quite a bit to those workers if you’d come over and just said something basic like “Hey I’m Russell Norman from the Green Party and we support you guys, good luck with your fight”. You don’t need an intimate knowledge of the worker’s demands to give them support! Unless there’s a situation where you wouldn’t have supported low-paid workers on strike?

    The Greens claim to be a party that supports workers, but when you were called upon to say a few words in support of workers on strike you didn’t. That says a lot about the true nature of the Greens.

  4. Ian says:

    The point is how little involvement high-ranking politicians tend to have with worker’s struggles. This example isn’t isolated.

  5. Matthew Cunningham says:

    John:
    “In a capitalist world, you’re either with the capitalists or you’re against them.”

    This statement is an oversimplification; the world is simply not as black and white, nor as “with us or against us”, as you’ve made it out to be. And who are the ominous, anonymous “capitalists” that form the target of your opposition? There is a significant amount of diversification amongst “capitalist” parties to render any attempt to lump them into one group as inappropriate. This isn’t solely on economic grounds, either; those who support, or simply accept, capitalism have diverse opinions on social and political issues as well. Simply claiming that anti-capitalist parties such as the Workers Party are “correct”, and by extension that all other parties (which by your statement are lumped together as “the far right”) are incorrect, is wrong.

    I believe that Russel has provided a fairly adequate explanation as to why he did not speak at the protest. Whilst Alastair is certainly correct that it would have meant alot to those on strike if he had said a few words to them, the public interpretation of this support would have cast him as merely attempting to capitalise on the publicity value of the strike. Or, more simply, he was taken back and ill-prepared for an impromptu speech.

    Furthermore, the fact that he did not speak does not automatically mean that neither he nor the party he represents support the working class. Russel has stated above that whilst he “didn’t know what [the strike] was about”, he was more than willing to “have a chat” and “support them”. Would giving a speech have aided the workers? Certainly. But does not giving that speech imply that Russel did not support them? Not at all.

    Matt.

  6. Paul Drake says:

    Just because Russel Norman shyed away from from giving striking workers a thumbs up, (which rather dissappointed me) it doesn,t mean that all the Greens should be tarred with the same brush. I think that Sue Bradford would have reacted differently.

    I am a green and a socialist and I think that we need to start looking for common ground. Traditionally the Greens have always focused on environmental issues but as time goes by more and more of us are realising that the biggest cause of Earths environmental woes is the excesses of capitalism. For example what caused the US credit squeeze ? A huge glut in the Housing market (taxing resourses) and people being kicked out of their homes because they can’t meet their mortgage commitments.
    Other words the banker want their cut first, that will result in a lot of homeless people and empty houses. How sensible is that?
    Paul Drake

  7. Don Franks says:

    Not good enough Russel. The workers were obviously struggling for a better
    deal against a shitfood giant which stands for just about everything you
    claim to oppose.
    A simple:
    “Hey, I’m Russel Norman, leader of the Green party. We support workers
    rights. Good on you guys for being staunch, keep it up!” would not have
    killed you would it?

    Don Franks

  8. WP Admin says:

    Absolutely, there’s common ground. The problem is, that common ground isn’t shared with capitalists, who benefit both from environmental degradation and the exploitation of workers - which is why fence-sitting can be a problem.

  9. tom says:

    Russel’s not going to go up and speak on an important issue after talking to just one guy from one perspective. It sounds like you probably coloured your wording, too. He did what any sane reasoner would do, political leader or no. You’re not only making mountains out of molehills here, you’re showing your fanatacism.

  10. John Edmundson says:

    Of course there is a wide range of opinion within capitalism and that is represented in, among other things, the range of political parties on the ballot. But it was Russel Norman who set up the dichotomy of being accused of being a commie by the far right (I didn’t call anyone far right) and a capitalist by what he disparagingly called the “ultraleft” - ironic considering his own background in the DSP. He knew exactly what he was (and wasn’t) doing by not making a brief statement to the striking workers. As Paul Drake pointed out, Sue Bradford may well have reacted differently.

    Actually, while politics is seldom about simple black and white choices, there is a choice to be made between continuing to support capitalism and opposing it. Since Russel posed the choice, I (rhetorically since he probably won’t ever see it) asked him which of those he has taken. While there are people within the Greens who are anti-capitalist, they are not in an anti-capitalist party. This may include Russel Norman and since he mad that statement, I think it’s worth challenging him over it.
    Cheers,
    John

  11. Alastair Reith says:

    A strike by low paid workers is not a gray issue with a range of valid opinions rgearding it. It’s a totally black and white issue with a very simple questi to be asked - whose side are you on? The workers or the bosses? As a socialist, I stand unconditionally on the side of the workers, and I don’t need a lawer and a media team present to show public solidarity with workers engaged in class struggle.

    Russell Norman has shown here what his answer is to that most fundamental of questions - whose side are you on.

  12. Matthew Cunningham says:

    Paul Drake:
    “the biggest cause of Earths environmental woes is the excesses of capitalism”

    Not quite. The biggest cause of Earth’s environmental woes is the methods by which the industrialisation of society has been, and continues to be, waged. These include non-renewable power sources, unmitigated overuse of the earth’s resources without a thought to their replenishment, mechanised processes and consumer products that produce harmful atmospheric by-products, and concentrated agricultural production to provide for an increased population. These are all products of the Industrial Revolution – a revolution that has not been limited to capitalist countries.

    For example, the decade-long program of crash industrialisation undertaken by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union during the 1930’s caused untold environmental damage. This process – which was subsequently continued by later Soviet leaders – is widely recognised as the quickest, and most excessive, process of industrialisation that has occurred in any country. Ever.

    Or look at China, where Mao Zedong’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ (and later programs) resulted in the exponential growth of industrial processes that have contributed to the degradation of the environment. Whilst it is debateable whether China can still be classified as a socialist country, the historical example from before the reforms of Deng Xiaoping is still pertinent.

    The problem does not lie with capitalism. The problem lies with the very means by which the industrialisation of society has occurred. The modification (or downright replacement) of these means that is required to reverse this process is independent of the question of capitalism versus socialism. This is an process that is very personal to me and is one that I am very passionate about.

    Paul Drake:
    “what caused the US credit squeeze ? A huge glut in the Housing market (taxing resourses) and people being kicked out of their homes because they can’t meet their mortgage commitments. Other words the banker want their cut first, that will result in a lot of homeless people and empty houses”

    Again, not quite. There are several causes of the current US credit squeeze, and the resulting global economic situation. One of these was a series of lending processes collectively called the “subprime mortgage market”. This refers to the lending of mortgages to families who have been turned down by the usual banks and lending institutions. Given that those who fall within this category are usually denied a mortgage because they simply cannot afford to repay one, it is not surprising that a large number of them began to default on their loans. Net result: the lending institutions go bust, which causes the bigger mortgage guarantors to feel the pinch as well. This in turn results in everyday workers and citizens withdrawing their funds from the bigger banks due to concerns over the financial situation, which leads to a wide-scale run on the leading banks, panicked selling of stock by investors, and so on. The root cause of this snowball effect does not lie with “the banker[s] want[ing] their cut first”. It lies with irresponsible and unregulated financial practices – which is, again, a question independent of the capitalism versus socialism debate.

    WP Admin:
    “capitalists … benefit both from environmental degradation and the exploitation of workers”

    Whilst capitalism holds a fair share of the blame for the environmental crisis (and I won’t deny this), your second point about the “exploitation of workers” makes no sense. If you examine capitalism in the sense that has so often been expressed on this site - as a ruthless force for economic expansion - then what would be the point of exploiting workers? To have economic growth in a consumer-driven society you need people to possess enough money, enough “purchasing power”, to buy the goods being produced - otherwise you have overproduction and underconsumption. Why would a supposedly self-interested ideology such as capitalism shoot itself in the foot like that?

    John Edmundson:
    “it was Russel Norman who set up the dichotomy of being accused of being a commie by the far right (I didn’t call anyone far right) and a capitalist by what he disparagingly called the “ultraleft””

    Whilst Russel did establish these terms, he did not frame them in the “one or the other” sense that you did. He was merely using them as examples to elucidate the labels brandished against the Greens by the opposite ends of the political spectrum. This implies that there is a wide, “grey” plethora of parties between those ends.

    You, however, used this dichotomy in a black versus white fashion. By posing the question of “who’s correct here? The far right???”, after establishing that one can either be “with the capitalists or … against them”, implies that there are only two answers to your question – only one of which, the “far right”, is capitalist.

    John Edmundson:
    “while politics is seldom about simple black and white choices, there is a choice to be made between continuing to support capitalism and opposing it”

    Agreed. Most things can be broken down to a black and white choice. However, this invariably results in oversimplification. Example: if the Workers Party, at some point in the future, is voted several seats in Parliament, would it then not have to ally with several larger capitalist parties – even if only temporarily – in order to have a voice in government? How does a black and white choice cope with situations such as this?

    Alastair Reith:
    “A strike by low paid workers is not a gray issue with a range of valid opinions rgearding it”

    This is not entirely true. Whilst I agree that, in the case of McDonalds workers, the staff labor under poor conditions and unstable hours for unfair pay. I support them fully in their campaign against these conditions. However, I have seen far too many examples where striking workers have made demands that are simply unfeasible for the organisation they campaign against. Unfair demands will mean nothing if, upon having them granted, the company goes bust and results in the workers losing their jobs. In cases such as this it is negotiation between the employers and the workers – the “black” and the “white” – that results in an equitable, “grey”, compromise.

    Matt.

  13. Matthew Cunningham says:

    And now, too late, I realise the gargantuan size of my post. Sorry in advance to those who choose to wade through it.

  14. Paul Drake says:

    Mathew:
    “The biggest earths environmental woes is the method of industrialisation——- of non renewable power sources—-and unmitigated over use of the earths resources etc.etc.” I agree with you there and how you describe that the process of mass production started in 19th century England and continued in Soviet Russia and China under Mao, correct again but I don’t see how that contradicts my statement when I mention that capitalism uses the same process of mass production (motivated by profit and greed) to stuff up the environment.
    Why I stand my ground here is that ‘capitalism’ in the context of the 21st century has no antithesis!! There is no Stalinism! and certainly no socialism (never mind communism) in China so you tell me what the hell else is there that is destroying the Earths environment????

  15. Paul Drake says:

    Mathew;
    If you read ‘Conservativ lies/Economic Truths by Dedrik Muhammad on Iquality. Org it shoots your sub-prime loans theory down in flames.

    Paul Drake

  16. Matthew Cunningham says:

    Paul Drake:
    “I don’t see how that contradicts my statement when I mention that capitalism uses the same process of mass production”

    I wasn’t trying to contradict this statement. Capitalism does indeed use the same means of industrial growth that socialism does, and I have stated this above. What I was arguing was that the means by which said industrial growth is achieved is separate from the debate over capitalism versus socialism. It is the means that need to be addressed, not the independant ideology that exists separately from it.

    Paul Drake:
    “Why I stand my ground here is that ‘capitalism’ in the context of the 21st Century has no antithesis … so you tell me what the hell else is there that is destroying the Earths enironment????”

    Again, you are conflating ideological concerns with environmental concerns. The addressing of the detrimental means by which industrial expansion is currently practiced is independant of the question of socialism versus capitalism. Any attempt to link the two issues together is opportunistic and wrong. One can challenge and change practices that are damaging the environment without having to tear down the capitalist system. To say otherwise would be like treating an arm wound by bandaging your leg.

    Paul Drake:
    “If you read ‘Conservativ lies/Economic Truths by Dedrik Muhammad on Iquality. Org it shoots your sub-prime loans theory down in flames”

    The only references I can find of Derrick Muhammad are in discussions where he voices the same argument I have espoused above - albeit from a more emotionally charged, pro-worker position. If you are interested in some concrete texts on the topic you can look at the following:

    * “A House of Cards - from fantasy finance to global crash” by Gerry Gold and Paul Feldman, 2007.
    * The “White Paper”, issued by the Subprime Crisis Research Council, released by the Hudson Institute, 2008.
    * “Is the 2007 U.S. Sub-Prime Financial Crisis So Different? An International Historical Comparison”, article by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University, 2008.
    * “Understanding the Subprime Mortgage Crisis”, article by Yuliya Demyanyk and Otto Van Hemert, Social Science Research Network, 2008.

    Matt.

  17. John Edmundson says:

    Matthew asks, if capitalism wants to succeed, “then what would be the point of exploiting workers?”

    The entire basis on which capitalism operates is built on the exploitation of workers; that’s what it does 365 days a year. Without it, capitalism could not exist.

    Matthew continues:
    “I have seen far too many examples where striking workers have made demands that are simply unfeasible for the organisation they campaign against. Unfair demands will mean nothing if, upon having them granted, the company goes bust and results in the workers losing their jobs.”

    I guess that’s why we’re revolutionary socialists and Matthew isn’t. We’re not interested in preserving businesses in the face of their workers struggles because we actually want to overthrow capitalism. That means in the scenario Matthew mentions, when the left is strong enough, the outcome would not be the workers losing their jobs, but the capitalist losing the business to the workers. In the end, socialism is not about the workers coming to a compromise over how much exploitation they’ll suffer. It’s about throwing out capitalism and replacing it with something better.

    I would be interested in knowing what these “far too many examples” actually are though. Perhaps Matthew could enlighten us.

    Matthew again:
    ““while politics is seldom about simple black and white choices, there is a choice to be made between continuing to support capitalism and opposing it”

    Agreed. Most things can be broken down to a black and white choice.”

    Actually Matthew isn’t agreeing with me, he’s disagreeing. But he goes on:

    “Example: if the Workers Party, at some point in the future, is voted several seats in Parliament, would it then not have to ally with several larger capitalist parties – even if only temporarily – in order to have a voice in government?”

    What Matthew fails to grasp is that unlike the Greens, who see their future as co-managers of capitalism in a Labour-led government, the WP would not enter into any capitalist government. Instead, we would judge each piece of legislation on its merits but stay outside government, using parliament to build workers’ struggles with the sole purpose of furthering the movement to overthrow capitalism.
    Cheers,
    John

  18. Matthew Cunningham says:

    John Edmundson:
    “The entire basis on which capitalism operates is built on the exploitation of workers; that’s what it does 365 days a year.”

    That’s not a fact - that’s your opinion. I’ve given my opinion also, whilst backing it up with a common sense statement on the nature of supply and demand.

    John Edmundson:
    “in the scenario Matthew mentions, when the left is strong enough, the outcome would not be the workers losing their jobs, but the capitalist losing the business to the workers”

    Your argument is based upon a frequently used, yet pragmatically impossible, tenet of socialist rhetoric - that the amount of capital available is infinite in a command economy. The gist of it basically states that “this wouldn’t be a problem under socialism because the state would pay for it…” But the fact is that regardless of whether or not a nation is capitalist or socialist in nature, the amount of money available will always be finite, which means that the buck has to stop somewhere. True, a state run enterprise will probably not collapse if a worker demand deemed impossible under a capitalist system is granted; however, the money to grant said request still has to come from somewhere. In this case it is the state, which means that the industry runs at a loss but is continually bailed out by state finances. Over time this results in stagnated growth that in turn impacts other state-funded enterprises that are starved of the capital that is being pumped into that one inefficient industry.

    A recent example of what I was alluding to occured with a cinema complex in the Wellington area. The Manager, who is a friend of mine, was approached by a number of angry staff demanding something approaching a 50% increase in their wage. He told them that this was simply impossible - it would result in budgetary blowouts that could only be met by passing the costs onto the consumer through hugely increased ticket prices. Their rebuttal was simply that “we are worth it”. He was willing to compromise with them but they wouldn’t have a bar of it. Eventually ther union representative stepped in and told them to pull their heads in and ask for something more reasonable. The union rep recommended a figure that turned out to be exactly the same as the one the Manager had offered by way of compromise. End result? The wokers had a genuine concern but had approached it in an unrealistic manner. Through dialogue and compromise a realistic figure was reached that still allowed company stability and ensured the end consumer was not affected.

    John Edmundson:
    “the WP would not enter into any capitalist government. Instead, we would judge each piece of legislation on its merits but stay outside government, using parliament to build workers’ struggles with the sole purpose of furthering the movement to overthrow capitalism”

    I thought that would be your response. Fair enough. I might disagree with the practicality of your sentiment but I definetely give you kudos for sticking to your principles.

    I think this debate is digressing from the original subject material of this post. I am more than happy to continue to debate the merits of capitalism against those of socialism under a different venue, but out of respect for the author of this thread this is probably neither the time nor the place.

    Matt.

  19. WP Admin says:

    In remembering Cold War socialism, we have to remember how much of it was about matching and adapting to US power.

    The rapid industrialisation of China, Russia, Japan and other nations in the 20th Century followed models set by capitalist countries. The Industrial Revolution, beginning in Manchester, was enabled by the enclosure of land for private benefit - by the development of capitalism. Even prior to the Industrial Revolution, new agricultural methods were causing permanent ecological devastation. Environmental degradation often occurred during feudal eras, but not to the degree and rising rate it has occurred since the development of capitalism.

  20. John Edmundson says:

    John Edmundson:
    “The entire basis on which capitalism operates is built on the exploitation of workers; that’s what it does 365 days a year.”

    Matthew:
    “That’s not a fact - that’s your opinion.”

    No Matthew. Exploitation is not a morale question, it’s an objective one. When a capitalist employs someone, the intention is to make more money for the business than it costs to employ the worker. That’s not rocket science and it’s not opinion. Ask any employer if s/he intends not to make money from employing staff. I’m sure their “opinion” will be the same as mine. What is opinion is whether or not you think that is a) a good way to run society, b) a sustainable way to run society. So Matthew might consider that production for profit, based on one person making money off another person’s labour is OK by him. Fine, so we may not know how Russell Norman would answer my question but we do know how Matthew would.

    Matthew then presents a weird - old school Labour - style caricature of “socialism” and, having erected his straw man, proceeds to destroy it. Good luck Matthew, I agree; that’s why I’m not in the Alliance, or trying to resurrect the Labour Party.

    Matthew then describes the ideal situation where a worthless unionist sells out the staff by proposing a deal identical to that of his cinema manager mate. Matthew, we want people like your mate to be stripped of their power over the working people. That’s why we are at such opposing places on the political spectrum.

    You are absolutely right. This is not a place to argue the merits of capitalism with someone who does not even know what revolutionary socialism is.
    Cheers,
    John

  21. Matthew Cunningham says:

    John Edmundson:
    “This is not a place to argue the merits of capitalism with someone who does not even know what revolutionary socialism is”

    There’s no need to be snide or condescending. I am well aware of the difference between revolutionary socialism and reformist socialism. At what point did I give off the impression that I was not? Incidentally, if the Workers Party is as revolutionary as you claim it is, is it not hypocritical for it to be participating at all in the “bourgeois politics” of the existing system? Whether it is houses in parliament or representatives in local electorates, sacrificing your complete picture of revolution for even some small part in the existing political system casts an undeniable shade of grey on your otherwise “black and white” viewpoint.

    John Edmundson:
    “Matthew then presents a weird - old school Labour - style caricature of “socialism” and, having erected his straw man, proceeds to destroy it”

    The “straw man” that you claim I have erected is nothing less than a portrait of the economic system that has been practised by every socialist or communist state in the last century. I am merely arguing from history. Unless your vision of what socialism entails flies in the face of all historical precedent then your argument is invalid. And if it does, then what system do you propose in its stead? Participatory economics? Anarchist economics? Each has their fair share of flaws that I will be more than willing to point out under a different venue.

    John Edmundson:
    “When a capitalist employs someone, the intention is to make more money for the business than it costs to employ the worker … [a]sk any employer if s/he intends not to make money from employing staff. I’m sure their “opinion” will be the same as mine”

    Again, I refer you to the fundamental financial principles that I have raised above. Any economic system, regardless of its underlying ideology, only contains a finite amount of capital. Therefore, every financial endeavour undertaken within it must be run efficiently and accountably, or else it will cause a financial burden upon the managerial superstructure that contains it (in the case of a command economy, this is the state). To do this the endeavour must do one of two things – it must either break even, or make a profit. If it breaks even then it has no room for expansion, which leads to economic stagnation. If it makes a profit, it allows for the industry to grow and provide for the next generation – and, more importantly, it meets the apparently undesirable condition of “mak[ing] more money for the business than it costs to employ the worker” that you have described above. Therefore, profit is a core function of any economic system if it wishes to operate efficiently and expand. You may call this “exploitation” if you wish, and I don’t deny that capitalism certainly results in exploitation under some circumstances – however, I find that label far too simplified and one-sided.

    John Edmundson:
    “Matthew then describes the ideal situation where a worthless unionist sells out the staff by proposing a deal identical to that of his cinema manager mate”

    Ummm, at what point did I state that the union rep was my friend’s mate? He is nothing of the sort. He came to his conclusion independently of my friend, in the interest of business stability. If my friend had given in to the workers’ unreasonable demands, the entire business would have gone bust and they would all have been out of jobs.

    Matt.

  22. WP Admin says:

    Getting rid of capital would be ideal. Either way though, capital doesn’t actually require that employers take wealth produced by workers.

    Factories such as Zanon Ceramics in Argentina have demonstrated that worker-run workplaces are actually more efficient. They’ve increased both production and wages by simply occupying the factory and running it themselves.

  23. John Edmundson says:

    John Edmundson:
    “Matthew then describes the ideal situation where a worthless unionist sells out the staff by proposing a deal identical to that of his cinema manager mate”

    Matthew:
    Ummm, at what point did I state that the union rep was my friend’s mate?

    “his” referred to Matthew, not the manager, so it was Matthew’s cinema manager mate I was talking about.

    Matthew:
    “…is it not hypocritical for [the WP] to be participating at all in the “bourgeois politics” of the existing system?

    No. We live within a bourgeois society where all the institutions are bourgeois. We are not anarchists. It is no more hypocritical for us to participate in elections for our own purposes than it is to go to the doctor if we’re sick. We may want socialised health but we have to live with what we’ve got. Likewise, while we don’t think bourgeois democracy is truly democratic, it’s still an opportunity to present our views at a time when people are more receptive to political ideas.

    Matthew:
    “Whether it is houses in parliament or representatives in local electorates, sacrificing your complete picture of revolution for even some small part in the existing political system …”

    We’re not sacrificing anything by participating in elections. Parliament is a flawed institution and we see it as being of less important than other, extra-parliamentary, struggles. But participating in it doesn’t weaken our position at all.

    Matthew:
    “… casts an undeniable shade of grey on your otherwise “black and white” viewpoint.”

    Matthew, I said “… politics is seldom about simple black and white …”

    Oddly, you replied: “Agreed. Most things can be broken down to a black and white choice.”

    Because this completely misrepresented what I had said, I clarified: “Actually Matthew isn’t agreeing with me, he’s disagreeing.”

    Now, bizarrely and perhaps disingenuously, Matthew writes of OUR “”black and white” viewpoint.”

    Matthew, how many times do you need to be told? This looks suspiciously like the behaviour of a troll rather than someone with a a genuine desire for meaningful discussion.

    Matthew:
    “Your argument is based upon a frequently used, yet pragmatically impossible, tenet of socialist rhetoric - that the amount of capital available is infinite in a command economy.”

    No Matthew, we have never claimed that and I defy you to find any such claim in anything the WP has ever said. Of course in any given society, there is a particular amount of labour power available, and therefore a given amount of social product. We have never claimed otherwise.

    Matthew characterises the WP’s position as follows:
    “True, a state run enterprise will probably not collapse if a worker demand deemed impossible under a capitalist system is granted; however, the money to grant said request still has to come from somewhere. In this case it is the state, which means that the industry runs at a loss but is continually bailed out by state finances. Over time this results in stagnated growth that in turn impacts other state-funded enterprises that are starved of the capital that is being pumped into that one inefficient industry.”

    This is the straw man to which I referred. Matthew we do not advocate a system based on “stagnated growth” and the support of “inefficient industry”. We advocate a system of production based on need rather than profit and maximum democracy, including within the workplace, where little exists at present. Matthew may prefer to put faith in his mate, the manager, to make decisions about other people’s livelihoods. I’d prefer to put that power in the hands of the people actually doing the work. We are a long way from that at the moment but the goal is worth fighting for.
    Cheers,
    John

  24. Matthew Cunningham says:

    John Edmundson:

    Matthew:
    “…is it not hypocritical for [the WP] to be participating at all in the “bourgeois politics” of the existing system?
    No. We live within a bourgeois society where all the institutions are bourgeois … we have to live with what we’ve got … while we don’t think bourgeois democracy is truly democratic, it’s still an opportunity to present our views at a time when people are more receptive to political ideas

    You’ve just proven my point. When questioning you on whether or not the Workers Party would participate in a form of coalition government, you clearly replied that “the WP would not enter into any capitalist government”. Yet at the same time, the Workers Party is willing to participate in the existing democratic process in order to achieve representation in the very capitalist government that you oppose. This is a good thing, by the way, and i’m not criticising you for it. What I am saying, however, is that <strong> you cannot claim to be a revolutionary socialist party when, to a certain extent, you are willing to sacrifice a portion of your revolutionary nature to participate in the existing process </strong>. This is where the black and white distinction becomes blurred.

    Furthermore, speaking of the black and white analogy, you have completely misquoted both myself and yourself on the matter.

    Where you claim to have said that “politics is seldom about simple black and white”, you have actually said that “while politics is seldom about black and white choices, <strong> there is a choice to be made between continuing to support capitalism and opposing it </strong>”. THIS is the black and white dichotomy I have been arguing against, and which, by your admission above that the Workers Party does indeed intend to participate in the existing political process to a certain extent, you have proven yourself to fall outside of.

    Where I have stated that “[m]ost things can be broken down to a black and white choice”, my full quote came with the addedum that “<strong> [h]owever, this invariably results in oversimplification </strong>”. I was asserting that YOUR black and white choice of socialism versus capitalism is an oversimplified look at what is a complex spectrum of parties, situations, and factors. I went on to exemplify this by discussing the range of different capitalist parties and the role that thw Workers Party saw itself playing in a potential capitalist government.

    I could take this a step further and point out the wide range of socialist parties within New Zealand - most of whom, in their self-proclaimed “revolutionary nature”, vehemently oppose any form of participation in the existing political process. Where do THEY stand in your black-and-white question? If, by your simple analogy, they oppose capitalism, they by extension they must also support the Workers Party. As we know for a fact that they do not, the obvious solution is that your “with us or against us” mentality is flawed.

    John Edmundson:

    Matthew:
    “Your argument is based upon a frequently used, yet pragmatically impossible, tenet of socialist rhetoric - that the amount of capital available is infinite in a command economy.”

    No Matthew, we have never claimed that and I defy you to find any such claim in anything the WP has ever said.

    I never claimed that the Workers Party has directly stated this point. I was stating that your argument is <strong> based </strong> upon this tenet. The argument in question related to the cinema case study, where you claimed that meeting the original workers’ demand in a socialist system would not result in “the workers losing their jobs” but instead “the capitalist losing the business to the workers”. If you examine my reply you will see that I agreed with you as the industry would be backed by state finance rather than private profit. However, using basic economic principles, I then demonstrated the run-on effect in other areas of the economy that would inevitably occur from one state-funded enterprise perpetually running at a loss. You have yet to address this point.

    John Edmundson:
    “Matthew we do not advocate a system based on “stagnated growth” and the support of “inefficient industry””

    I never claimed that you did. I was merely stating that efficiency and profit are core requirements of any industry regardless of ideology. Profit is a byproduct of efficiency. Your use of the term “need” is simply another word for “demand”, which is again a tenet of efficiency - production to suit the needs of the market in order to ensure profit. As for your desire for “maximum democracy” within the workforce, I agree with you on this point. However, I do not believe that workplace democracy can only be achieved in a socialist system.

    Incidentally, your belief that my friend at the cinema complex does not do any work (unlike the workers who are “actually doing the work”), is insulting. My friend works damn hard. He started at the bottom rung of the company, on wages far lower than those of the employees now under his management, and spent years working his way up to the position he now enjoys - whilst undertaking full-time study.

    Matt.

  25. Matthew Cunningham says:

    WP Admin:
    “Factories such as Zanon Ceramics in Argentina have demonstrated that worker-run workplaces are actually more efficient”

    This is a very interesting case study, thankyou for providing it. I won’t deny that this looks like a very successful worker-run enterprise that has very generously contributed to the surrounding community. Very impressive, in fact.

    In saying that, there are still several basic tenets within the structure of Zanon that are not distinctly socialist in nature. One is that it still operates in a fashion that is designed to make a profit - the difference lying of course in where, and to whom, that profit is directed. Two is that the managerial structure that runs the company is very similar to the pre-worker controlled structure - the difference being that the managers would of course have been elected from within the worker body rather than promoted from above.

    I disagree with your contention that Zanon demonstrates that “worker-run workplaces are actually more efficient”. I contend that Zanon is indeed efficient; however, in order to ascertain whether or not it is more efficient than a capitalist organisation you would need to undertake a more thorough economic analysis.

    Overall, I think this case study shows that there are indeed flaws in some existing capitalist structures that need to be addressed - namely, the skewed distribution of wealth and the lack of democracy within the workplace - however, I maintain that these questions can be solved without having to resort to the drastic measures of socialization.

    Matt.

  26. WP Admin says:

    Another example would be the urban agriculture in Cuba, which cuts out various profit-seeking aspects and allows people direct access to production. But there’s a wider problem here.

    Capital, as you say, is dependent on profit - so when there’s a choice between profit and social good it’s not hard to guess which wins out. The increasing accumulation of disproportionate profit also results in crisis, as we’ve seen recently. The profit-system is therefore damaging. Constrained by international capitalist markets, it has been difficult for socialist systems to get rid of it completely, but they’ve generally achieved when they’ve lessened their dependency on international flows of capital. Resources and social good should always trump profit, but that’s not achievable when your system is dependant on capital.

  27. John Edmundson says:

    I haven’t “proven your point” at all because we would never attempt “to achieve representation in the very capitalist government that [we] oppose.” There is a huge difference between standing for *parliament* and being in a capitalist *government*. Being in a capitalist government would indeed be a change of position - in fact it would be a sell out - but we have no intention of doing that. You say it would be a good thing. I say if we ever do that we’ll have betrayed our principles.

    I didn’t misquote anyone, least of all myself. There is a clear choice between capitalism and socialism. If you want to call that black and white that’s your prerogative. I prefer to simply call it a choice. I have no doubt that there are differences between the different capitalist parties. But they are still managing capitalism rather than opposing it. Trying to reform capitalism does not threaten its fundamental nature.

    Left groups that don’t participate in elections are making their own assessment of what is the best strategy. If it’s part of a plan to call for a vote for capitalist parties like Labour, then I disagree 100% with them. If it’s because they simply don’t agree with engaging in parliamentary politics, as is generally the case with anarchists, then I’ll respectfully disagree.

  28. John Edmundson says:

    Matthew:
    “As for your desire for “maximum democracy” within the workforce, I agree with you on this point. However, I do not believe that workplace democracy can only be achieved in a socialist system.”

    I’m not sure how workers getting to vote that the shareholders get no dividend and the CEO gets the same wage as the workers would work under capitalism.
    Cheers,
    John

  29. Paul Drake says:

    I have been following the Edmondsun vs Cunningham debate with some interest but what has caught my interest is a comment by WP Admin who mentions Zenon Ceramics having a worker-run factory is doing well. Are the workers there inclusive in the management team or are they actually stakeholders in that factory?

    I have read Marx’s ‘Des Capital’ his observation of the capitalist system is absolutely spot on but for me his solution seems to be a bit of a close-ended absulute, like no profit, no ownership etc. The attractive selling point is the idea of a classless society where the proleteriate of a commune is supposed to dictate (after a motion has been voted on) to the party representative and then it is supposed to be acted on either at that level or further up.
    How it actually happened in Stalinist Russia was the opposite, an elite was dictating from the top a very narrow and litteral enterpretation of Marx, and those who criticised were labeled ‘revisionist’ and shunted off to Siberia. Some were even supporters of communism.

    A question I would like to put to the Workers Party is how literal a Marxist path are you going to take?

    I would like to see an end to capitalism but I certainly would not like to live in a Stalinist/Maoist state you know’ Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend’ you know being just a cynical hoax.

    Yours Respectfully

    Paul Drake

  30. John Edmundson says:

    Paul, if you haven’t already seen it, check out the short clip about Zenon on this site. You’ll see that it’s a company where the workers took over the existing plant and began running it themselves. So they’re not simply “in management”. Of course the situation is still developing so how the ownership ends up being organised in the future is still an open question. It’s still a good example of how worker run production can in fact succeed very well.

    While the WP’s original membership came from a range of Marxist backgrounds, from pro-Mao to pro-Trotsky, we found that we could agree on the key issues facing New Zealand in the 21st Century. Part of that meant not harking back to the failed attempts at establishing socialism, most notably, as you note, the USSR and China. While it could be argued that for all their problems both the USSR and China represented improvements on the feudal or semi-feudal states that preceded them, that is clearly not good enough for us in the here and now. What we need is something better than 21st Century advanced capitalism and bourgeois democracy. That’s why we’ve tried to reclaim for the Marxist left, the demand for maximal freedom and democracy for which it was once known, rather than accepting the notion commonly associated with the left of a strong coercive state telling people what to think. We’ve tried to start as we intend to go on, by cultivating an internal culture of openness and an avoidance of dogmatic “Lines” on every issue to which everyone must adhere or leave. So there are many issues on which we agree to differ, where other left groups in the past may have demanded uniformity. I hope that is reassuring.
    Cheers,
    John

  31. Paul Drake says:

    Thanks John that is reassuring and I think that if the Workers Party sold ‘ socialism ‘
    as’democratic socialism’ then I think that the party will grow. But before the left can effectively deal with the New Nazi-land Nationals/Acts brigade it needs to sweep clean it’s own house and consolidate it’s own position by clearly defining a manifesto of left reform and speak plain english that everyone understands.

    I think that it would be worthwhile researching the in’s and out’s of profit as I see profit like a wine, a little bit is OK, but then it feeds greed and becomes a habit, then it involves all the other deadly sins and becomes very dangerous.

    I will check out the other articles as I think that I have veered off the original issue here

  32. Adam says:

    Paul you make a good point.

    The other thing I would add is that all of us on the broad real left need to forgive our differences otherwise we are going to get nowhere. Here is the problem: too many small left parties, Trotskyists who will not talk to marxist leninists who will not talk to social democrats who will not talk to Fabians and anarchists who have been left out in the cold. This is not good. All of us on the left need to start talking and put aside what are in the face of what we are up against, relatively small ideological differences.

    Maybe this cannot happen at the political party level, but there would be some benefit of a loose coalition of the left in New Zealand.

    The struggle (from whatever angle you approach it) is stuffed without solidarity, which is ultimately what we are supposed to be about.

    Just my thoughts off the top of my head.

  33. John Edmundson says:

    I actually doubt that there is much desire from John Key to launch a massive right wing attack. His post-election negotiations so far appear designed to shield him from too much influence from ACT. With support from the Maori Party, he won’t need ACT too much.

    We will see a more vocally conservative foreign policy, although I doubt it will differ hugely from the current one Labour has been running. Ironically, the election of Obama will probably make the deployement of NZ troops abroad more palatable . . .

    Either way, we should be a bit careful about bandying around terms like Nazi. There is no real reason to expect anything of that sort.

    On the profit thing, I don’t think it’s an issue of morals (greed). Rather it’s a fundamental mechanism of the capitalist economic system. That’s why I think it’s important that we find alternatives to the profit motive if we are to move towards a better system.
    Cheers,
    John

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