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The Only Vision….Left.

Written By: - Date published: 7:09 pm, March 24th, 2012 - 53 comments
Categories: Left, political alternatives, vision - Tags: ,

Is it not strange and a bit disquieting that the parliamentary left, or more precisely, the Labour Party, is all at sea with regards vision? The vision of the left…the only vision there is for the left… is the same now as it always was. So why is the Labour Party struggling to articulate a vision? We know that the labour Party has lost touch. And we know that people are more or less disengaged from parliamentary politics. Why this should be isn’t very difficult to figure out. How to rectify the situation isn’t very difficult either.

But first, it might be useful to point to where it all went wrong for the parliamentary left. Many people think that the 1980’s marked a parting of the ways for Labour and its core values and support base. I don’t think that’s correct. I think the wrong step was taken years before that.

Across the English speaking world, Labour Parties adopted a platform that was underpinned or informed by something distinctly anti-left. That doesn’t mean they didn’t enact policies that led to vast and laudable improvements for many people. And it doesn’t mean those policies didn’t express or contain some genuine leftist sentiments. But the basic contradiction of espousing leftism from an anti-left platform meant that the parliamentary left was never going to be able to bring any leftist programme to full fruition. And with the benefit of hindsight it becomes fairly clear that the parliamentary left was always set on auto destruct.

And this is why. By 1921 the Russian Revolution had been well and truly defeated and the promise of a socialist revolution had degenerated into the nightmare of a dictatorship. Where socialism had sought to empower ordinary people in their daily life through the establishment of democratic workers councils, community councils and the like, by 1921 the Bolsheviks had laid waste to nascent structures of empowerment and secured themselves in a position of absolute power. It was they who claimed, through the Party structure to express the true will of the people. And so to speak against them was to be marked down as a counter revolutionary and punished accordingly.

And it was that Bolshevik model of socialism (if the term can be meaningfully applied to Bolshevik rule) that the Labour Party looked to for inspiration as it sought to bring about socialist transformations here. Put simply, the Labour Party view was that the state would provide and the matter of a bureaucratic dictatorship was quietly swept under the carpet.

I don’t mean to suggest that Labour Party leaders secretly nurtured fantasies of having dictatorial powers, the like as exercised by Lenin or Stalin. But there was an article of faith operating for many people of the left; a belief that things would improve in the USSR and a belief that the state would somehow (magically?) wither and a socialist world appear in the space formally occupied by the state. And that belief might go someway to explain the fact that there were apologists by the truckload in the broader left ready to justify or explain away such events as Stalins treacherous interference in the Spanish Revolution, his peace treaty with Hitler’s Germany, the invasion of Hungary and so on and so on.

What we know is that when the dictatorial edifice that was the USSR crumbled, it was the market that rushed to fill the vacuum. And we also know that across the English speaking world, many professed leftists lost their point of reference and succumbed to market ideology too.

Prior to the collapse of the Bolshevik dictatorship, there existed a tension between state and corporate dynamics in some ‘western’ countries. That led to a mixed economy and allowed social democracies to develop in the years following WW2. Suffice to say, given the realities on the ground, compromise was the order of the day for both sides and we, ordinary people, benefitted from policies emanating from the tension generated between the two antagonistic poles of political/economic attraction.

But even with one of those poles gone now, we are getting on close to a hundred years of much of the left adhering to the notion that the rightful repository of power, from a leftist perspective, is the state. One effect of that misguided notion is that the only other possible repository of power is somewhere within the private or corporate sector. And so the left today withers because socialist aspirations cannot be developed when corporate/private sector control is accommodated. And the left has felt compelled to accommodate the corporate/private sector ever since its ‘one trick pony’ of state control was discredited with the death of Bolshevism.

But as I said at the beginning of the post, Bolshevism – or state control – was never an authentic expression of leftism and was in fact what brought the socialist revolution in Russia to a dead halt.

So what are the options for the parliamentary left today? On the one hand they can continue to merely slow the rate of the ascendency of private/corporate control if and when they gain a parliamentary majority. Or they can espouse the only vision there ever really was for the left and use any time in office to devolve the power of the state to the hands of the ordinary citizen.

At present, huge chunks of the state are being consumed or appropriated by the private/corporate sector. And with the parliamentary left adrift and lost, it’s only a matter of time before we arrive at the point where a ‘zero welfare’ state exists as a tool under the guiding hand of the private/corporate sector. And that’s not going to be nice. A brief glance at history – at Italy or Germany during the 1930’s – should give us distaste enough of that possibility.

So it’s incumbent upon any parliamentary presence that deserves to be identified as ‘of the left’ to play its part in offering and developing an alternative to that scenario. To be really clear, the sun is setting on the vestiges of the ‘old left’ – the ‘traditional left’ of this past 100 years – and I don’t believe for a second that I am the only one who perceives something very unpleasant on the horizon.

And so it is no longer of any use for the parliamentary left to say that it will not privatise ‘a, b or c’ if it gets into power. And it’s also pointless for the parliamentary left to promise to round off the more egregious edges of already enacted right wing policies. Because when the right gets into power it can get its hands on ‘a, b and c’ and privatise it anyway. And those blunted edges can be honed all over again. Also, when the right gouges state assets or services and places them in private hands, it takes longer (if ever) to reverse the privatisation process than it did to implement it. And so our society drifts ever further into a corporate future. And to halt or reverse that drift, the only worthwhile strategy available to the parliamentary left is one that will move assets and services beyond the reach of ‘the right’. And that means removing those things from state control.

It’s past the time when the parliamentary left should have got over the habit of investing power in state bureaucracies. It’s past the time when the parliamentary left should have faced up to the fact that strategies that focus on empowering the state are ‘dead as dead ducks can be’.  And it’s past the time for the parliamentary left to use what time it might have in power to invest in a genuinely empowering and resurgent left through enacting policies that devolve power and decision making to ordinary people in their daily lives as citizens and workers.

Politics is about the exercise of power. And although it’s devoid of substance, Whanau Ora provides a signpost to some parliamentary possibilities. The reality of Whanau Ora is that funding and expertise will be channelled to private providers and so nothing much will change in relation to where power resides. But there is another model for community health care that contains substance. And there is no reason why that model can’t be looked to and no reason why Whanau Ora can’t be pushed in that inclusive and empowering direction. The Venezuelan state launched a programme called Barrio Adentro. Unlike Whanau Ora, Barrio Adentro provides for (among other measures) full and free medical training to people from the communities where the services are located and places the power for managing the services squarely within the communities.

And it’s not the only community based programme the state is encouraging. Across the social spectrum, the state is empowering individuals and communities by developing parallel, community controlled structures to stand alongside the ‘traditional’ bureaucratic state models and existing private models

And that, for the parliamentary left, is the whole thing in a nutshell. Either it acknowledges that the old power dichotomy of private versus state was a false one and encourage the development of a new ‘pole of attraction’; one that is based on an empowered citizenry. Or it accepts its complicity in the formation of a corporate/private fascism and its place on the receiving end of any backlash that may be unleashed.

Sadly, to date, it would seem that the parliamentary left in the form of the Labour Party, is taking the second option and hiding behind a fig leaf of protestation that would declare the world void of meaningful leftist vision. Which is odd, because as said, the leftist vision – the vision that would empower ordinary citizens, was and is the only vision the left ever had. And that vision is at least as relevant today as it ever was (perhaps more so) and, what’s more, far easier to translate into reality now that the stone wall to progress on the left, the presence of the Bolshevik dictatorship, is no longer around and the ideas it espoused so thoroughly discredited.  I find it difficult to believe that the Labour Party is so blind to leftist history as to claim there is nought but a vacuum where vision should be.  But then, maybe Labour politicians (or should I say ‘careerists’… as surely only a party of careerists could be as ignorant of political history as the current Labour Party appears to be) are happy enough to play handmaiden to a corporate agenda and pocket the proverbial 30 pieces of silver for their troubles? Who knows.

53 comments on “The Only Vision….Left.”

  1. RedLogix 1

    We often disagree Bill… but hell I do value your contributions.

    Society consists of three counter-poised components; authority, community and the individual.

    Authority in the form of the Corporates and their lackey State have reserved the right to act collectively for themselves, while telling us individuals we had ‘freedom’.

    Neglected and diminished has been the entire notion of community.

    Barrio Adentro provides for (among other measures) full and free medical training to people from the communities where the services are located and places the power for managing the services squarely within the communities.

    Empowering communities is the last thing the state wants, and us ‘liberated’ individuals now too enfeebled to achieve it for ourselves.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      Authority in the form of the Corporates and their lackey State have reserved the right to act collectively for themselves, while telling us individuals we had ‘freedom’.

      QFT

      Also, the concept of freedom has been lost and replaced by the delusion of choice. Choice in flavours of milk, choice in which manufacturer you prefer, which brand but no ability, for the majority, to actually govern their community. That freedom, the true freedom, has been removed and replaced by an elected dictatorship that kowtows to the capitalists. That freedom has been removed by the simple act of privatising the communities wealth.

    • Bill 1.2

      Well. We’re going to disagree again. ;-)

      Society is composed of many facets or counter poised components…far more than the three you highlight. And authority is multi faceted and resides in many places at some level or another at any given moment.

      But for the sake of the post, it makes sense to distinquish between corporate power, state power and individual power (as exercised or realised through democratic mechanisms embedded in ‘the community’). And that’s because the post attempts to focus on ‘the left’ and more particularily the parliamentary left and where it has placed the power at its disposal in the past; why it has placed it where it placed it; and what options, more in keeping with a vision of the left, it has when it comes to deciding where to vest the power it has in the future.

      And while the example of Venezuela gives the lie to any assertion that ‘Empowering communities is the last thing the state wants’ it’s true that the bureaucracy is loath to relinquish the power vested in it by the state…which is almost an agreement, no? :-)

      • RedLogix 1.2.1

        Well I’ve spent the day hammering hard out in the Tararua’s and I’m not of a mood to quibble with you over how we agree to slice and dice this. I can see where you are coming from and we both saying much the same thing…. just packaged somewhat differently.

        It is of course the sense of belonging and community that has been most battered by the neo-liberal madness. It’s one reason why I actually enjoy living in a relatively modest provincial town, after a while you do get to know people, local business’, the clubs, the cliques and hob-nobbers. It’s all a lot more congenial … and human….than living in the cities where I grew up.

          • Bill 1.2.1.1.1

            Thanks for that RL. Not wholly convinced by all the analysis, but a basic income would definately be a step in the right direction. I particularily like his overview of vision. I think it’s important to avoid hard and fast prescriptive ‘programmes’…for obvious reasons.

            It is like going on a journey with a compass that tells us the direction we are moving but without a road map which lays out the entire route from the point of departure to the final destination. This has perils, of course: we may encounter chasms which we cannot cross, unforeseen obstacles which force us to move in a direction we had not planned. But it may also be the case that if we want to leave the social world in which we currently live we have no better device than principles of direction rather than known-in-advance destinations.

  2. Dr Terry 2

    If all that spiel was “in a nutshell” how much more will be needed for a coconut shell? Sorry to be cynical, I am sure it all comes right in the end!

  3. jen 3

    great post

  4. Tc 4

    Shearer has proven to be a huge disappointment, you have to ask yourself would Labour be so rudderless with a Cunliffe/mahuta leadership galvanising the troops and dispensing with those not up for the fight.

    It’s a fight for core values and what Labour has out front is what the Nats wanted and the caucus only has itself to blame for the guns being in the inside….pull the trigger and see what happens.

  5. Jan 5

    The history lesson is interesting – and I think that you are right that we are living in dangerous times – although I wonder whether for most people there is yet but a dim awareness of this. However I find the article to be a depressing vision (used here on purpose) of leftist real-politick . Happliy and surely though there is a rather big gap. The left is not all about the struggle between the Bolshevik strong state and communitarian power. Social democracy isn’t a temporary post 2ww accident in the power struggle between capital and labour. The real danger lies in taking social democracy for granted because it’s not sexy or utopian and because it has been our lived experience for much of the last 80 ro so years it appears invisible.

    There is plenty in our traditions that is about developing an empowered citizenry, the campaign for universal suffrage, the United Nations, mutualism and the cooperative movement, trade unions, community activism of all kinds, the Fabian tradition and the liberalism of the 19th century, liberation theologians as well as the kinds of initiatives that you write about in Venezuela are all elements of the traditions of the left.

    Having a problem with a “vision” is a safey net against both utopian or dystopian extremes. As has been said of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen’s unwillingness to engage with ‘vision’.. “Hitler had a vision” This article by Colin James discusses the issue http://www.colinjames.co.nz/herald/Herald_2005/Herald_column_05Apr05.htm. Utopian visions of left or right can lead to some terrible stuff and i think that it’s this problem that the current discssion in the Labour party hinges on. With a media focussed on gloss, glamour and trivia, beholden to the owners of capital how to make thoughtful progessive politics based on left principles attractive.

    As for capitalism filling the gap in Russia that is true but as an aside I’m yet to meet anyone who, lacking the moral certainty provided by the USSR, who rushed off to become venture capitalist or a currency traders.

    Thought provoking article – thanks

    • Bill 5.1

      Sadly jan, in the english speaking world at least, it seems that the left has been dominated by the influence of the Bolsheviks. The Labour Party and the unions spring instantly to mind. The Labour Party offered statist solutions and the unions were awash with Leninists, or whatever other stripe or hue of Bolshevism, eager to appropriate the state in the name of the people or whatever.

      Having said that, I’m aware of of people from the left who were around in the time prior to the collapse of the USSR who just had no time whatsoever for any of that shit. But they and their ideas were marginalised by the mainstream (of course) but also vigorously suppressed by a broader left that was dominated by Bolshevism and this idea that everything should be brought under the control of a bureaucracy…a bureaucracy dominated by Bolsheviks of course…or at least one that could one day be ‘captured’ by them.

      And I don’t think social democracy was an accident from a struggle between capital and labour. I think it arose from the tension between those advocating for state and corporate centers of power….a kind of extention or result of ‘the cold war’ as it were.

      Anyway. Vision. What’s wrong with proposing a framework an outline and having ideas about the broad nature of results you’d wish to see or achieve? And what’s wrong with exploring that outline or framework and seeing if it does in fact deliver what’s desired? And changing things if need be?

      That’s a world away from either Clark’s managerial approach (that Shearer seems to have adopted) or the highly prescriptive ‘visions’…or programmes… that your Hitlers or Lenins would roll out. See, them’s guys knows best. Them’s guys knows whats good for you. And thems guy’s is gonna deliver…over your dead body if need be.

      • dave brownz 5.1.1

        “Having said that, I’m aware of of people from the left who were around in the time prior to the collapse of the USSR who just had no time whatsoever for any of that shit. But they and their ideas were marginalised by the mainstream (of course) but also vigorously suppressed by a broader left that was dominated by Bolshevism and this idea that everything should be brought under the control of a bureaucracy…a bureaucracy dominated by Bolsheviks of course…or at least one that could one day be ‘captured’ by them.”

        Yes, in particular Trotsky and the Left Opposition inside the revolution itself fighting for its life, for which most of them paid with their lives, whereas your cheap sideline demagogy echoes the bourgeois hysteria of the day, damning Bolshevism as usurping the democratic rights of the people.

        There is a good reason why the left has been dominated by Bolshevism as you put it, since for that left the Bolshevik revolution represented the flowering of proletarian democracy only to be poisoned by bourgeois reaction and the rise of the Stalinist regime. Unlike you, most leftists can make a distinction between a proletarian revolution and a bourgeois counter-revolution.

        Perhaps you should adopt the openness of the Occupy movement where ‘visions’ of the future are being put to the test of a reality of the fight against capitalism today. Here, liberals, social democrats, anarchists, feminists, autonomists, Leninists and many other self-styled political currents, are debating among themselves and finding their respective ideas challenged in the heat of the struggles.
        http://redrave.blogspot.co.nz/2011/07/draft-action-program-for-europe-rising.html

        • Bill 5.1.1.1

          Dave. The dictatorship was locked in place while Lenin was still around ie, pre Stalin. And in 1921 it was Trotsky who headed the ‘Red Army’ and executed the order for the sailors at Kronstadt to be butchered. Now I know you’re going to peddle the official Bolshevik propaganda line of the time and claim that the sailors at Kronstadt were counter revolutionaries and essentailly bourgeois. And I know you will claim they were not the same sailors who a few years previously had been lauded as revolutionary heroes. And I know you’ll throw in that the navy at Kronstadt was on the side of the ‘White Army’. It’s a tiresome argument, but go ahead if you must.

          Meanwhile. Where are you picking up this notion that I’m close minded? I mean, that’s what your saying when you write

          Perhaps you should adopt the openness of…

          Okay Dave. Here is the one and only thing I will not concience and that I will never be open to. Political movements that embody or promote dynamics of oppression or those who would prosyletise those political movements or cults. Aside from that, I’m open to hearing and exploring whatever. I have no ‘book of truth’ and no ‘hard and fast’ doctrine I adhere to.

  6. Reagan Cline 6

    last year the manager of the firm that employs me called a meeting of employees and said that we would not get a wage rise because it would prevent the owners of the business getting a good enough return on their investment. He said something along the lines of “how would you feel if you had put all that money into buying a business and you got too little back to justify the risk that the business could fail and you, the owner could lose the money you had put in to buy it”
    This made me feel a bit guilty and it has been on my mind a lot lately. I am still trying to figure it out. So I am working for a firm that is managed to maximise profits for the owners, who I have never met and do not even know the names of ? I understand they are a private equity group and when I googled them I found out they own hundreds (yes hundreds) of firms.
    I would rather be working for a firm that was owned by myself and the others who worked there and that we all had a say in how it was run.
    I and the other people at my workplace get on well together and enjoy working together, but it is because we enjoy the work and doing it together. No one ever talks about the things the manager was talking about at that meeting.
    There is a big disconnect betwen the manager and the owners of the firm and us the employees. I still don’t know if this is the best way of arranging things or not, but it leaves me (and probably the others) with this constant background feeling that I don’t matter all that much in the greater scheme of things and that somehow the manager and owners matter more than us and that is how it will be.
    I wonder how many other people feel as I do and have had a similar message from their manager ?Is this the way of things now in New Zealand ? Should we be trying to change it ? How could we do this without the suffering of a “russian revolution” and its aftermath ?

    • thatguynz 6.1

      Yes, yes, yes and yes. 
       
      Sorry to sound overly enthusiastic RC but you have identified the reality of the current corporate/business world but more importantly you have answered a number of thoughts that I’ve been kicking around recently – namely creation of another company that is in effect actively managed and part-owned by the staff.  In essence it introduces management/leadership by merit as the staff determine who within their ranks is best placed to manage or lead them.  I also see tremendous value in the staff having significant voice in determining the strategy and direction of the business.
       
      Utopian perhaps?  Theoretical – at this stage certainly.  I have a lot more research to do into where this approach has been enacted successfully but it strikes me that when people have empowerment or “skin in the game” and have a voice in their destiny, it makes for an infinitely more enjoyable workplace for all, and harnesses everyone’s collective knowledge and experience.
       
      Just my 2c of course :)

      • AAMC 6.1.1

        Believe Naomi Klein made a doco about factories in Argentina that started operating like this when the owners walked out bankrupt, also cases recently in the US when I think it was glass factories being “rationalized” and the workers have occupied and continued to produce.

        • thatguynz 6.1.1.1

          Thanks for the pointer AAMC – I’ll look into that.  I’m somewhat familiar with Naomi Klein having read one of her books.

      • Draco T Bastard 6.1.2

        The word you’re looking for is cooperatives and, yes, they can be very successful.

      • Colonial Viper 6.1.3

        The owners provided initial capital but probably add no value to the business and have likely never even set foot on premises. They just extract from the added value that your labour and expertise adds to their provided capital. The firm you are in could do just as well if the workers within it had provided the capital instead of them, which would mean that the workers would all be shareholders, and own a controlling stake in the company.

        Through principles of democratic enterprise (democratic socialism) you could then choose how much profit the company needed to make and retain, how much to pay yourselves as worker-owners, and even democratically select who the senior management team is.

        A lot of these ideas are described by Prof Richard Wolff

        http://www.rdwolff.com/

        • Bill 6.1.3.1

          meh. Screw the ‘senior management team’. There is no requirement for peopleto occupy such positions. If a ‘senior management team’ is formed, then the vertical division of labour and all that entails in terms of empowerment, access to information and decision makeng is re-created.

          For example, accounts need to be dealt to. But that doesn’t mean that someone has to be appointed to a permanent role or position of accountant. Far better to find out who is interested in such stuff and train them BUT have them execute that role only as a part of their overall duties or for a proscribed duration. Otherwise, information…or access to or understanding of…gets concentrated into too few hands. And information is critical in the decision making processes.

          There’s a lot I could say about this stuff. But I won’t….for the moment ;-)

          • Colonial Viper 6.1.3.1.1

            I don’t think you can get away from all hierarchical decision making in a business enterprise. Just like you cannot get away from it in the running a country. The creation of a highly democratic and merit based process for selecting that hierarchy is important and needed IMO.

            If a ‘senior management team’ is formed, then the vertical division of labour and all that entails in terms of empowerment, access to information and decision makeng is re-created.

            Remember that the management team reports to a Board of Directors populated with worker-shareholders.

            To address your concerns, policies around access to information and how democratically decision making is carried out day to day and month to month can be set by workers themselves, at the Board level, and carried out by the management team.

            • Bill 6.1.3.1.1.1

              It actually is possible to organise the running of a business in ways – including procedures for decision making – that are non-hierarchical.

              But putting that aside, the problem I see with the scenario you suggest is that the BoD will be operating (sometimes to a greater degree and sometimes to a lesser degree) on information provided by the management team…who may or may not disclose all the information they have. And they will definately have interpreted the information at their disposal in a particular and partial fashion and present it accordingly.

              Also, even given full disclosure of information, what about the worker-shareholders who are not on the BoD?

              And then there is the issue of the BoD issuing directives to the management team and the management team using their better familiarity with the full gamut of information to ‘spin’ policy or decisions towards their own preferred agenda or way of operating.

              Add to that, that it’s a tall order to ask a poorly informed person to first of all, identify the information they need to request and secondly to fit it into a meaningful context built from other information that they may or may not be a party to.

              At the end of the day, your scenario empowers some and leaves others disengaged to a greater or lesser degree. Which is what we have in workplaces at the moment.

              • Non-hierarchical systems are up against arguments that rely on the presumed efficiency advantages of a division of labour (see Adam Smith’s enumeration of the advantages to see what needs to be countered).

                Personally, even if division of labour is (in a narrow sense) more efficient in terms of production than a ‘jack of all trades’ familiarity, it is extremely inefficient as a social system. It creates technocratic elites (within their own specialisms) and, inevitably, room for the kind of hoodwinking you mention and, conversely, the ‘production’ of suspicion and mistrust on the part of those who are not the specialists. (Who hasn’t wondered about whether they really need all that work on their car that their mechanic suggests?)

                I worked on a Kibbutz for a while and they seemed to have no problem with a policy in which everyone did a range of the jobs (especially the range of manual and service jobs on the kibbutz) while, for jobs requiring prolonged specialised training, they always had a number of people they rotated through them (e.g., your example of accountants), though not everyone.

                This was done for precisely the reason you describe: No-one gained such an advantage over information or over particular areas of decision making that they could concentrate power in their hands (and therefore effectively gain excessive control over the collective efforts – and rewards – of the kibbutzniks).

                Seemed very viable: At the time they were going to open a second irrigation pipe factory – in the Caribbean. 

                • Bill

                  Is there a link to an on line version of the Adam Smith piece you mention?

                  I’m curious as to whether he was referring to a simple division of labour whereby some people undertake or focus on some operations in a production process or whether he was referring to a vertical division of labour.

                  For me, it’s only the vertical division of labour that is problematic.

                  If I run the printing press and you run the collator and somebody else focusses on the dark room etc, I don’t see that any problems necessarily arise from that scenario.

                  And if you want to learn how to run the press then as long as we have a system of skill sharing in place, then that’s fine. And if you have no interest in running the press, then that’s fine too. And so on for everyone across all the stages of production.

                  But the vertical division of labour is a different matter. One that the kibbutz you mention seemed to deal with adequately.

              • RedLogix

                There is one corporation I can think of that has made an step in the direction away from hierarchy.. Oticon. Back in 1987 the new CEO Lars Kolind took over a classic company that had suffered a dramatic fall in it’s market share. Faced with big competitors like Seimens and Phillips whom they couldn’t beat on financial terms, Kolind undertook a radical change:

                We could never beat them on technology, so
                we had to find something that we could do in a
                unique fashion. That led me to believe that if we
                could design a uniquely innovative, fast moving,
                efficient organisation, then this is something they
                could never replicate.”

                Kolind’s response to this problem was a radical
                new organisational model with no formal
                hierarchical reporting relationships, a resource
                allocation system built around self-organised
                project teams, and an entirely open-plan physical
                layout. He called it the spaghetti organisation, to
                symbolise the organic and non-formal structure he
                was trying to create.

                http://www.managementlab.org/files/u2/pdf/case%20studies/OticonCaseStudy_.pdf

              • Colonial Viper

                that the BoD will be operating (sometimes to a greater degree and sometimes to a lesser degree) on information provided by the management team…who may or may not disclose all the information they have. And they will definately have interpreted the information at their disposal in a particular and partial fashion and present it accordingly.

                Yes this could be a problem, granted. However it would be quite difficult for a management team to spin the wool over the eyes this particular BoD because the directors also live on the frontline of the business every day as coal-face workers. Eg. its hard for management to spin how much product is being shipped every month and where it is going to, when one of the Directors loads the trucks in outwards goods himself.

                At the end of the day, your scenario empowers some and leaves others disengaged to a greater or lesser degree. Which is what we have in workplaces at the moment.

                My scenario is not perfect eg. as you point out there won’t necessarily be a perfectly efficient spread of information across the company. However, policies can be set eg. to ensure that all workers receive a copy of the monthly financial statements etc since the workers are also shareholders, or to rotate through roles and depts as Puddleglum suggested.

                So I’d assert that this kind of democratic workplace is completely different than almost all which exist today. Workers can democratically choose from amongst themselves who their supervisors and managers are, and front line workers can serve on the Board of Directors. Both management and the BoD are directly answerable to the body of worker-shareholders on a regular basis.

                Last thing I’ll add – I’m very confident that this set up will work and work well whether a work place has 6 people or whether it has 6,000.

                Democratic hierarchical systems are very very scalable and can be implemented very very fast.

  7. McFlock 7

    I think the issue of state power vs individual power is tangental to the issue of whether a society cares for and protects its weakest members. Defintely valid, but I think the issue with “labour” parties over the last 30 years or so has been that the vision of assisting the poor has been coopted by both the religion of “individual choice leads to individual consequence” and the lack of a leftist economic base.
        
    In NZ, the reason Douglas&co could dictate to the party was because Keynesian economics was perceived as eventually resulting in stagflation. Thus the Chicago School provided the tories with a TINA solution. Now we are trapped by politicians who cannot visualise solutions outside of what the NBR thinks should be done – or at least they are too poll-shy to express themselves.
        
    That philosophical weakness means that “left” political parties have been concentrating on symptoms (child poverty, environment, GINI) but still haven’t described the cure, rather than a treatment. Which they then try and puff up by copying tory postmodern “branding” vacuities.
        
    Until we have a party that will publicly propose a top tax bracket of around – or in excess of – the 50% mark for the Dotcoms of the country, then they’re playing the same old tory game. And if the Dotcoms want to leave because of it, then we’d be better off for Atlas having shrugged.

  8. bad12 8

    Did we read here the name David Shearer and the words ”leftist vision” delivered in the same breath???,

    We have been up to now loath to show criticism of the ”Party,s” choice of leader, but, we believe that Sir,(spit),Roger Douglas has been heard to state he is not unhappy with the choice,

    Private armies???not unhappy with Slippery Key and company,s latest bash a benni legislation???are Labour trying to emulate Bill English,s 20% of the vote perhaps???…

  9. Mark 9

    Bill, I like a lot of what you have to say, but to say that the Russian Revolution was over by 1921 is just so wrong. Under the extreme domestic and external stresses the Bolsheviks were placed under they had little choice but to resort to a more ‘command’ way of doing things in order to advance socialism. Without it the revolution would have been utterly destroyed, not only by domestic enemies, but also by the Western interventionists. The triumph of the 1917 revolution was perhaps the greatest event in world history. The achievements of the Soviet Union over its 70 years of existence were huge. Without the Soviet Union, hundreds of millions of Asians and Africans would still be in colonial bondage (many still are, but of course not to the same extent of 100 years ago). The Soviet Union saved the world from the fascist menace of Nazi Germany.

    Under Stalin, a backward, illiterate, people were transformed into one of the most educated and culturally sophisticated people in the world. And the Soviet Union became a superpower with a mighty war machine which served as a bulwark against Western imperialism. Revolutions succeeded in China, Cuba, all over Africa, Latin America, Vietnam….with the comforting presence of the Soviet Union on the world stage.

    The Soviet Union was far from perfect. But without the 1917 Revolution, much of the world would be in a far worse shape than she is today.

    Whatever the ‘crimes’ or mistakes of the Soviets, these were more excesses committed in the heat of the moment, under extreme circumstances, and often in cases where the regime had good reason to worry about the actual continued survival of the Soviet state.

    This is totally unlike the vicious, and evil true holocausts that the Western colonialists visited on Africans, Chinese, and Indians. The only excuse being sheer greed. Along these lines I would recommend Mike Davies “Late Victorian Holocausts” about genocidal British policies in India late 19th Century – which were basically nazi like.
    http://www.amazon.com/Late-Victorian-Holocausts-Famines-Making/dp/1859843824/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332459299&sr=8-1

  10. ak 10

    Fracking cracker Bill, and beautifully articulated. It’s the answer, the holy grail, the way ahead alright, and exactly what Sandra Lee tried to stimulate with the 2002 Local govt amendment Bill and which, as Red so timelyly (pardon the neoligism) notes, will always be resisted by the Right. Timely, because Nick the Mess just disembowelled her bill the other day on his way out.

    But methinks it was a Nick of time too late. Because ae, Whanau Ora for Maori, Bill – but also and more pertinently our environment: there were an awful lot of Tories on the Mining march; and all over the motu cockies, greenies, bennies, goldcardies, chippies, stoners, teachers, dentists, surfers, fitters, turners, workers, shirkers, perkers, stoners, boners, disempowered body-worshippers and rich-as-sin nobodies have been coming together on PROJECTS. To stop the bully bulldozer, save the lesbian whale, stompt the stoat, SAVE THE KIWI.

    (Only the bird, of course: to hell with the children of the poor, or Maori, FFS: they can continue to die seven years early, and as for the 30k-a-day overseas sprogs dying for want of cents – pfffftttt )

    But it’s a start: and a bloody good one. And yep, Bill, the way to go. Depends entirely on individuals in every community standing up and taking on board the lessons of those sterling individuals in the Coromandel, of course, but I’m confident they’re up to it. You’re either a kiwi proud of our heritage or a lazy nonentity: content to crawl to your grave on your knees.

  11. AAMC 11

    h/t Bill, a cat that needs to be put amongst the pigeons, I wish I had the grasp on history with which to articulate it as well.

    Way I see it, we have a problem of bigness, on the Right of business, on the Left the State.

    David Graeber talks about how we all, inlcluding our libertarian and conservative adversaries, act as communists in our daily lives, towards our family, our neighbours, our friends. When we bring things back to the small, the immediate, the local, it becomes much easier to act with compassion toward our surrounding community.

    Currently both sides of the political spectrum fall victim to their hierarchies, and hierarchies to the seduction of power.

    It is time for a new post Cold War vision for the Left, unified in the fight against the ecological, environmental and Totalitariam future confronting us.

  12. You don’t want a left ‘vision’ but a left ‘program’.

    A program is a set of goals that the mass of working people vote on democratically to meet their needs. If its not that its a bosses agenda, hidden or otherwise. Like Auckland’s plan for profit.

    By definition the bourgeois state serves the interests of capital which is antagonistic to peoples needs.

    That’s why we have an ‘inequality’ problem. And a human ‘survival’ problem.

    So the left has to sort out what must be done to meet out needs and find vehicles for it. You don’t have to look far. Only organisations of workers independent of the state and all its agencies can fulfil these tasks. Occupy is rapidly discovering what this means in practice. So…

    Jobs. Their system is in crisis and they are casualising jobs to increase the surplus they pump out of us. So demand jobs for all on a living wage. We will only get it by occupying and putting under workers control all firms that sack us, and share all work equitably among us. Bosses are incompetent workers can run the economy without them.
    Housing. nuff said. Occupy under workers control all vacant housing suitable for accommodation.
    Health. Socialise private health. Sack all managers and put public health under the control of health workers and consumers councils.
    Ditto Education.
    Industry etc. Socialise land, banks, food production, energy, transport etc under workers councils.
    Foreign policy. Don’t fight wars on behalf of any capitalist power or its lackeys.
    Government. For a Government of Workers and small farmers that can implement this program.

    We don’t waste time begging bosses to pay for all of this, we simply expropriate them in all these acts of socialisation and decide collectively how to share societies resources equitably.

    Strangely enough that was the Bolshevik program roughly speaking in the brief period before Russia was invaded by about 10 imperialist armies, its economy devastated its revolutionary fighters decimated in the civil war and the Soviet government forced to resort to a policy of war communism to defend the revolution. Of course the social democratic parties were complicit in this counter-revolution.

    Not surprisingly, that revolution was pushed back and became a Stalinist dictatorship, which despite all its fascist-like politics owed its economic power to the revolution which explains why the USSR was decisive in the defeat of fascism in Europe and not the so-called ‘democracies’ who were were ready to appease fascism and more interested in smashing the working class than the Nazis.

    The lesson we should draw from all this is that Bolshevism is not the bogey, capitalism is, and so is the ‘left’ that compromises with capitalism in sowing illusions in social democracy.

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1

      Jobs. Their system is in crisis and they are casualising jobs to increase the surplus they pump out of us. So demand jobs for all on a living wage.

      It’s not about jobs, it’s never been about jobs, but about the distribution of the communities wealth and the capitalist system leaves that distribution to the capitalists who give everything to themselves.

    • Tiger Mountain 12.2

      Agree Dave,
      “Strangely enough that was the Bolshevik program roughly speaking in the brief period before Russia was invaded by about 10 imperialist armies, its economy devastated its revolutionary fighters decimated in the civil war and the Soviet government forced to resort to a policy of war communism to defend the revolution. Of course the social democratic parties were complicit in this counter-revolution.”

      The social democrats broadly portray them selves as cuddly wuddly class collaborators but when it hits the fan what do we get? 1951 waterfront lockout-neither for nor against, POAL lockout-Labour Mayor Lenslide with low to zero class analysis, drops his bundle. Totally unable to cope.

      I maintain now historical anti sovietism particularly when invoked nowadays regarding the paucity of the NZLP is anti worker and anti communist, marxist left arguments over other matters not withstanding. Bill’s post is a steaming pile unfortunately. Labour is a social democratic party with a declining membership and significant internal democracy issues.

      • Bill 12.2.1

        Hmm. You do know that many communists, autonomous Marxists, anarchists and others who have no attraction to Labour or any other parliamentary party regard the ‘Soviet experiment’ as anti-communist Tiger?

        That aside, care to explain why you regard the post as a ‘steaming pile’? Is there something fundamentally flawed in the proposition that if the parliamentary left wish to be of any relevance, then it is going to have to move beyond variations of statist based ‘solutions’?

        See, I’m not saying that they will use their position to aid and abet a better future. I’m arguing that they ought to. And those are two different things. If they don’t then they will become utterly irrelevent and viewed as being complicit in the formation of a corporate future. And I don’t have any real problem with that, except for the fact that should all that come to pass we will be in deep, deep shit and hardly in a position to do 5/8ths of fuck all to alleviate our situation.

  13. Uturn 13

    Excellent post, Bill. I’d like to read more like it published here. It’s the perspective that matters to me: Human efforts contributing to the wider good of communities, not pockets of poverty and pockets of extreme riches, with the richest attacking and looting any group it can find, legally or otherwise.

  14. LynW 14

    Interesting and stimulating discussion everyone. Love the reference to David Graeber’s take on communism AAMC. All contributions very thought provoking. Thank you.

  15. The theory of a lot of this sounds fine. The practical realities can be different.

    Some corporations crap on people and on societies. But do the negatives really outweigh the positives?

    What we are using here, the Internet (and computers) are what they are today to a large extent due to corporations.

    Health technology and drugs are significantly driven by corporations – this has impacted hugely on quaklity and length of lives. Sure, poor people may have less life expectancy than people who are better off and we shoulkd endeavour to improve that, but the life expectancy of the poor is generally much improved on what it was a century ago. In part thanks to corporations.

    • Bill 15.1

      Some corporations crap on people and on societies.

      Would you care to name a few…even just one or two, that don’t?

      But do the negatives really outweigh the positives?

      Where to start?! Lets get one basic thing out of the way. Technology and advances in medicine etc are not predicated on the existence of corporations. So all the positives (and probably more) are possible without them. As for the negatives. Hmm, lets see. What about just two negatives as ‘headliners’ that contain very long lists of examples and knock-on effects….environmental destruction and undermining democracy

      • Pete George 15.1.1

        Technology and advances in medicine etc are not predicated on the existence of corporations.

        No, of course not. But corporations have been major contributors. They also contribute quite a bit to employment – and many people choose to work for them.

        undermining democracy

        You’re right if you mean special interest groups have more influence on governance, and money is a major factor.

        But the biggest thing that undermines democracy is apathy and non-involvement. No point in grizzling about those who do organise their lobbying – eg business groups and unions – when most people don’t take part most of the time.

        • RedLogix 15.1.1.1

          All corporates are fuedal autocracies.

          When you work for one, your life belongs to them. They will tell you what you will do with most of your life, they will tell you what to wear, they will tell you how to think, how to behave. You will have no say over who orders you about minute to minute, you cannot say no to any of their directives, you cannot organise your own work in the way you know will work best, you have no choice about being forced to work with people you cannot abide… you are their slave.

          Your only choice is to resign and go and work for another one. Which isn’t really a choice at all… just the illusion of one.

          But the biggest thing that undermines democracy is apathy and non-involvement.

          Becuase people know perfectly well that they are slaves and there is not a lot of point in getting ‘involved’.

          • Draco T Bastard 15.1.1.1.1

            All corporate are fuedal autocracies.

            Capitalism itself is a system of feudal autocracy and democracy is anathema to it.

        • Bill 15.1.1.2

          You got that list of benevolent corporations drawn up yet Pete? Take your time.

    • Draco T Bastard 15.2

      But there was nothing preventing any of that from coming about anyway PG. In fact, the state protected monopolies that capitalism requires probably prevented even more and better advances.

  16. randal 16

    as long as some of the left claim that socialism is scientific and historically inevitable then the left will always reside in mumbo jumbo land.
    the only way to fight a class war is to call a spade a spade.
    capitalism is wrecking the planet so wanting to usurp its privileges and expropriate the goods is just not going to cut it.

  17. Conal 17

    Barrio Adentro and other Venezuelan social programs are of course paid for out of the income of a very large, state-owned company: Petroleos de Venezuela. If the Venezuelan right were to get their hands on it again, turning off that money tap would put paid to a lot of that development. So I think you are wrong to cast it as a dichotomy, with the State in the role of the villain.

    • Bill 17.1

      So I think you are wrong to cast it as a dichotomy, with the State in the role of the villain.

      I didn’t. What I’ve said is that the state can undercut itself and in doing so contribute towards the building of a better future. Barrio Adentro is an example of that dynamic.

      And what I’ve said is, that as long as the left sees the only repository for power to be the state, then we are going to drift inexorably towards a corporate dominated future. I outlined and signposted some reasons as to why I believe that to be the case.

      What I also said was that where the state is seen as the only counter point to private/corporate power, and where the state gains ascendency, we get a bureaucratic dictatorship. Again, I outlined and signposted that dynamic using historical facts/events.

      It’s true that initiatives like Barrio Adrento are vulnerable in the short/medium term to roll back. But (as far as I understand it) the idea is to ‘sponsor’ and promote such initiatives with the goal that they should be self sustaining and independent. And from that point on, they are not subject to roll back.

      • Conal 17.1.1

        With respect, I think you are splashing the term “the state” around quite loosely, and in an article like this you have to use your terms more scientifically. I don’t want to get into a stupid argument about what terms “really mean” but I do think that some terms can be used incorrectly in that they serve to conflate things that are actually different, and hence they are ultimately confusing. It seems to me you are presenting the state as something which independent of society which can be “held” (alternatively) by “left” and “right”. You present the idea that some things can be “removed” from the reach of the state. You talk about building an alternative locus of power within society, but you counterpose that absolutely to “the state”. I don’t agree with any of this; I think it’s confused and confusing.

        In reality the state is nothing more than the actual structure of power within a given society (or “social formation” more accurately). The state is the means by which the dominant class or classes of that society maintain their dominant status. In transitional cases, where no social class enjoys an absolute pre-eminence, there will be dual state apparatuses. But a revolutionary class can’t just “seize” a state and use it against its former oppressors; every ruling class must have a state of its own, just as it must have a ruling ideology of its own. If an alternative locus of power is successfully established in a society, then that apparatus IS the state. Because that’s what “state” means.

        So what does it mean to “remove assets and resources from the reach of the … state”? It’s not as if you can just choose to “opt out” of the repressive power of the state. If something is actually removed from the reach of the state, it can only be done by asserting a new power which is ipso facto a new state power.

        If the Right actually do have control of the state then they can seize and privatise assets. Look at what happened in Yugoslavia! In socialist Yugoslavia there were state-owned enterprises and there were also worker-owned enterprises, but after the fall of the socialist regime those worker-owned enterprises were privatised, too, never mind that the state didn’t have the legal right to do so; they had the power. So to remove something from the reach of the state actually means to challenge the de facto power of the state; the legalities are really only superficial trimmings.

        So it comes down to: how to challenge and actually defeat the organisation of the rich? Can that ultimately be done without making use of centralised political power, as anarchists believe? I don’t see any evidence that it can. What did Hugo Chavez do? He first tried to overthrow the Venezuelan “Punto Fijo” state by armed force, and then through a mass electoral movement and a centralised socialist party (The Venezuelan United Socialist Party) and a mass popular front (the Polo Patriotico). This is precisely what his political opponents characterise as an attempt to establish a Bolshevik dictatorship. Do you agree with them?

        • Bill 17.1.1.1

          Well Conal, if you’re going to hold that any power being excercised anywhere by people in a society is ‘the state’, then discussion about where power might best reside and how to shift power from where it lies presently to somewhere else becomes highly problematic.

          But lets go with what you saying for a second. So power cannot be removed from the state. And resources and assets cannot be removed from the state. Okay. Using your definitions then, what I’m arguing is that assets and resources can be moved beyond the reaches of the actors who operate within the current state configuration.

          That means creating a nascent alternative in the process ie a state where people and their communities have direct access to assets and resources and manage them according to substantive democratic processes.

          And the medium that could ‘oil the wheels’ of such a transition remains current parliamentary left parties (centralised political power) who could utilise the power and resources of the current state to bolster the alternative and in the process, weaken the current configuration. Just as is happening in Venezuela.

          You ask if I think a Bolshevik dictatorship is being created in Venezuela. No. I don’t think that’s the case at present. Far from it. But maybe it could become the case at some point in the future depending on any number of unforseeable factors. And at what point will the Bolivarian Revolution be irreversable? I don’t know.

          As for the example you give of the Yugoslavian socialist regime retaining power that was used to roll back any progress made with regards worker management, is that not as good an argument as any for agreeing with the framework for progress I’ve attempted to outline in the post? One where (to use your terminology) a new state gains ascendancy over the old state…where a fundamental shift in power occurs that empowers the (current) periphery while it similtaneously disempowers the (current) centre. Or put differently, where there is no longer a concentration of power into a few hands but where power is decentralised…spread throughout society.

  18. AAMC 18

    “The armies of anti-public intellectuals, who appear daily on television, radio talk shows, and other platforms, work hard to create a fortress of indifference and manufactured stupidity. Public life is reduced to a host of babbling politicians and pundits, ranging from …” insert usual suspects here .. “all of whom should have their high school diplomas revoked. Much more than providing idiot spectacles and fodder for late-night comics, the assault waged by the warriors of rule enforcement and gated thought poses a dire threat to those vital public spheres that provide the minimal conditions for citizens who can think critically and act responsibly.”

    Henry A. Giroux on Pedagogy required for a new Left

    http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/8009-gated-intellectuals-and-ignorance-in-political-life-toward-a-borderless-pedagogy-in-the-occupy-movement

  19. Interesting discussion, Conal and Bill.

    Reminds me that we all are assuming that the current ‘state’ is not a democratic one – despite claims to the contrary.

    Democracy, so far as my understanding goes, means rule by the people.

    Yet just about everyone you talk to refers to ‘the government’ as somewhere else (than where they are). It is ‘other’. So, clearly, most people still feel they are being governed rather than that they are governing. Hence, it’s hard to see how we can claim that we are a democracy.

    Partly this is probably a result of ‘scale’ as AAMC noted in comment 10. But partly it’s also a result of the system of representation rather than participation.

    Linking to my previous comment (above), representation is generally advocated for the fact that it is efficient – through a ‘division of labour’. The problems of division of labour, however, become very clear in representative political systems since it can result in a ‘careerist’ approach in which politicians themselves become a ‘class’. 

    So, while representative democracies have inherent problems involving loss of actual ‘government by the people’, this is exacerbated by the ‘division of labour’ imperative exerting itself – from the increasingly all-econmpassing dynamics of what passes for our capitalist, market system – over the political process. In short, people realise they can earn a living by being politicians.

    Division of labour has a lot to answer for, when you think about it. When translated into the political world it has far more in common with a monarchy or technocracy than it does with a democracy (i.e., specialisation of the governance role). 

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