by Don Franks
Since its formation the Workers Party of New Zealand has recognised that immigration controls are essentially a boss’s device to control workers. Accordingly, the Workers Party has always stood firmly in opposition to immigration controls. Point 4 of our 5-point programme spells it out in these words:
“For working class unity and solidarity - equality for women, Maori and other ethnic minorities and people of all sexual orientations and identities; open borders and full rights for migrant workers”.
Some people see our policy of open borders as extremist. Others realise that a truly internationalist position can’t settle for anything less. Genuine socialists insist on workers absolute freedom to travel and take up residence wherever they choose.
Previous New Zealand attempts to create a socialist movement did not always reach a clear understanding of this matter. The Workers Communist League (WCL), which I used to belong to, was one such example. In the 1980s the WCL was a relatively large party, with members active at various levels in 17 different unions. The WCL lead a number of big struggles, including several political strikes. This brought our comrades into contact with workers of many nationalities and our organisation tried to take an internationalist position with regard to these workers. In the 1980 Manifesto of the Workers Communist League a detailed section on Pacific Island Minorities noted:
“The capitalists are quite cynical in their use of Pacific Island labour. In the boom they are eager for Pacific Island workers and couldn’t care less if they overstay their permits. In the slump when unemployment appears they suddenly remember their own laws and mercilessly hunt over stayers down. The pacific Island nations are used as a reserve of cheap labour for the New Zealand boss.”
Our Manifesto went on to argue that: ‘communists must support the just demands of the oppressed minorities for economic, political, social and cultural equality between themselves and European New Zealanders … full rights for Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand, including the right to stay here if they wish, a general amnesty for oversteers and an end to state harassment.”
However, when specifically relating to immigration law, our Manifesto
“On the question of Pacific Islands immigration, communists must fight for non-discriminatory migration criteria.”
However well intentioned, this sentence is not true internationalism.
It recognises the right of the capitalist class to maintain a system immigration control.
1982 Political Report of the WCL referred to a need to better develop its internationalism and noted, with particular reference to Pacific nation people:
“Our glaring weakness in programme, line and policies for the oppressed minorities hampers the rapid development of our work in this sector. An investigation plan has been drawn up in Wellington to broaden and deepen our knowledge of the specific nature of the oppression of minority peoples, the different political forces at work among them and their aspirations.
I don’t recall whether that investigation plan was fully executed, but the WCL never developed its internationalist understanding to the necessary extent of opposing immigration controls. The WCL’s next - and final - major policy document, the 1984 Socialism and Liberation merely advocated:
“support ( for) the struggles of workers and other oppressed people in other countries for socialism, democracy and peace. In particular this country must cease its imperialistic role in the South Pacific and assist in the development of the Pacific Islands”
The WCL’s attempts at internationalism fell short. On that score, our organisation never moved beyond a position of left nationalism. This shortcoming of ours had its roots in the flawed Stalinist concept of socialism in one country. On page 34 of the 1980 Manifesto, - appropriately alongside a photograph of Stalin - our programme projected a sort of future southern hemisphere Albania, vis:
“a socialist New Zealand will throw off all foreign domination, particularly that of the two super powers. The working people will build a strong independent country through self-reliance. The lopsidedness of the New Zealand economy will be overcome so that we are no longer buffeted by every jolt in the international economy”
The original communist challenge “Workers of all countries unite!” sounds so simple. The practical realisation of that vision has proved difficult. Future civilisation demands such a realisation. An indispensible step in that direction is the demolition of all gates in the global village - insistence on open borders.