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Nineteen fifty one

Written By: - Date published: 10:55 pm, February 27th, 2009 - 18 comments
Categories: Unions - Tags:

Today marks the anniversary of Holland’s deployment of the army to break the waterfront union in 1951.

The documentary produced for the dispute’s 50th anniversary is available here.

Unlike some other commentators on the left I don’t celebrate this. Nor do I celebrate the strike of 1913, despite it’s IWW origins. In both cases a lot of working people suffered greatly for little gain. That’s something to commemorate but not something to celebrate.

The fact that today, with a single public relations gesture, John Key was able to portray a National party neo-liberal government as the friend of the Kiwi worker (and after nine years of a “Labour” government) shows how much we need to change.

Despite the best intentions of many of my comrades, I don’t think we’ll make that change by mouthing radical phrases that are a century old and half a hemisphere distant.

The question, as we approach an opportunity provided by the possible crisis of capitalism, is how do we grow our own answers?

[hat-tip: Anita]

18 comments on “Nineteen fifty one ”

  1. rave 1

    But Bill the reason the left has lost on all the big fights is that most workers identified with their bosses – that is what a ‘national identity’ means living in one nation in harmony with your class exploiters.

    The IWW had a class identity but it came to grief on workers aligning with nationalism rather than class internationalism.

    It don’t celebrate 1913 and 1951 either as they were defeats in which the class identity of the most militant workers was swamped by national identity of the moderate majority. That’s what has prepared the ground for Key being able to sell himself as a friend of the workers. In 1913 he would have been pilloried. In 1951 Jock Barnes would have excoriated him as a boss. The leadership of the CTU today would come in for the same treatment as Barnes gave the Labour Party in 1951.

    Instead of bemoaning the weakness of “our” (that word implies class reconciliation) national identity facing global finance capital, what workers here need to do is identify with the students of Greece, the workers of Guadaloupe, the genocided inhabitants of Gaza, the workers on the streets of Paris, Rome, Ireland etc.

    Without an international class identity workers in this country will always be pissed on by rich bastards in flash suits calling themselves kiwis. We know that is not true. Key’s loyalty is to his class, not to NZ workers.

    It’s even worse than that as the ruling class doesnt even believe in NZ nationalism. Their loyalty is to their international investments. They only fake NZ kiwi loyalty to hoodwink workers. Why make Key’s job easier by perpetuating the lie of NZ national identity?

  2. IrishBill 2

    That’s exactly the problem. I’m not talking about nationalism but about finding a language and type of leftism that connects with New Zealanders and New Zealand culture.

    For example I have seen a new left blog that proudly provides its manifesto in Italian, French, German etc.

    They do this because that is what was done with the communist manifesto because it was targeted at European workers. What about Maori, Samoan and Tongan?

    And that’s the problem, there are too many activists who are left as a fringe fashion statement. The communist manifesto (or the writings of Bakunin for that matter) don’t have immediate relevance to the vast majority of Kiwi workers. They provide an analytical framework but they ain’t going to get cut through out west.

    • Bill 2.1

      So what would a Polynesian version of the Bolivarian revolution look like?

      I agree that although elements of ‘western’ left analysis (communist and anarchist) are useful, they are too cultural specific to be simply adopted and promulgated as an answer to 21st Century Capitalism.

      Maybe it’s time to go back to the beginning and imagine what a NZ built on a genuine partnership between Maori and Pakeha would look like. Then throw in the communist/anarchist analysis to flatten or subvert such unjust hierarchical social relations as may arise from such a synthesis.

      But how to get there without a sympathetic state facilitating such a seismic shift as is arguably the case in Venezuela?

      It’s not realistic to imagine workers taking advantage of the situation now unfolding by somehow spontaneously arriving at a state of revolutionary conciousness.

      Can an agency be developed that doesn’t simply degenerate into vanguardism and become just another vehicle for power hungry individuals?

      Or is it possible that somehow small groups of workers come together and generate examples that others might look at and emulate?

      Or maybe it will take a crisis to force workplace occupations and all the rest of it. And maybe the participants will be driven wholly by necessity and not be sympathetic to or aware of the potential offered by a left political analysis.

      Then what? A wasted opportunity… a default reversion back to something like what we have now? Or will there be a natural ‘drift’ towards a reality reflective of a leftist vision?

      • rave 2.1.1

        Bill I missed this.
        Fair enough questions but the alternatives you are advancing are a bit limited and can’t be known in advance.
        Need to define what the Bolivarian revolution is. Mainly its a radical nationalism directed at US imperialism as Chavez is aligned to EU imperialism.
        Chavez “21st century socialism” is not really socialism driven by the democratic development of the working class. Its a new variant on the old Stalinist popular front of workers contained by bureaucrats and bourgeois elements.
        In terms of your “agency” question are you happy with a Bolivarian “strong man”? Chavez supports Lula who has clearly sold out to imperialism.
        However while the Bolivarian revolution led by Chavez cannot break from imperialism it opens the road for a genuine revolutionary mobilisation of the masses.
        I don’t think that spontaneous upsurges like the Argentinian occupations of 2001 onwards, Greece recently, or Guadaloupe today, or maybe French Polynesia tomorrow, are capable of overthrowing capitalism. That is not their immediate objective. Usually its bringing down a government. Like in Greece or in France. The fact that even these objectives cannot be won without putting up an alternative revolutionary power, however, doesnt automatically throw up the leadership and program to overthrow capitalism.
        But the impact of the crisis which is producing these resistant struggles does open up the possibility for revolutionary change but calling forth a revolutionary leadership.
        The thing is that the different revolutionary traditions are represented in these uprisings and further developments, some very weak it is true, and they will be subjected to the “acid tests” of these events. The ones that offer real leadership will emerge as a “vanguard”. But that vanguard would not be a small band of outsiders, but the leading sectors of the revolutionary workers.
        When the revolution occurs it will be the result of the democratic self-activity of the working masses choosing which program they need to open the road to socialism.

  3. higherstandard 4

    Perhaps you should familiarise the vast majority of kiwi workers with the 10 planks of the communist manifesto … I suspect around 9 out of 10 of them would go down like turds on toast with most workers and indeed most of the public.

  4. RedLogix 5

    Ahh yes the innate conservatism of the petty, small property owning bourgeois. Don’t you love the social glue that stops this proud nation sinking into godless communism?

    • higherstandard 5.1

      “Don’t you love the social glue that stops this proud nation sinking into godless communism?”

      Yes

  5. rave 6

    The original Communist Manifesto freely interpreted to fit today’s kiwiland petty bourgeois aspirations.

    1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
    [Land nationalisation to end speculation in land. Could be done with a land tax on the unimproved value similar to that of the 19th century. This would NOT deprive homeowners or farmers (or fairminded landlords) of the improved value from their blood, sweat, and tears.]

    2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. [yippy eye oh]

    3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
    [Could be achieved with a capital gains tax to get the zombies too]

    4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
    [Today this would mean that Lord Ashcroft would have his property confiscated for sciving off to Belize for tax purposes. Fay Richwhite would qualify. Rebels would mean all those All Blacks who betray their national identity and take money to play for other people]

    5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
    [Eminently sensible and would be a huge hit with mortgagees suffering Aussie bank rooting. Would make a nice piggy bank for John Boy to raid but we would sack him as he has already exceeded his 90 days probation].

    6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
    [So far so good, trains, planes, but please re-nationalise the buses and Telecom. Cable roll out too as John Boy is already centralising the combined cycle/cable track.]

    7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
    [Yes if we are going to bail out the factories, then we should own them. Take back electricity. Stop the erosion of land laid waste by intensive land use; plan for an ecologically sound, sustainable economy. Green New Deal version 2.0]

    8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
    [Work for all those who can work and want to work. From each according to their need, to each according to their work. That would soon get everyone working with armies shooting possums]

    9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
    [I think they threw this one in to make it a round 10 or because the London sewers were overflowing.]

    10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.
    [Sensible, should add free non junk food]

    Then there is the famous No. 11. attributed to communists of the socialisation of women, apocryphal of course.

  6. Pat 7

    I thought the this post by Irish was calling for ideas for the next Labour policy platform, to reconnect Labour back with NZers.

    Instead we get a revised communist manifesto? Really??? You think Kiwi’s would dump John The Centrist for that?

    • rave 7.1

      Yes, because when you think about it, socialism for the poor is much more popular than socialism for the rich.

  7. If I remember rightly Milton Friedman had an appendix in one of his books outlining the manifesto of the American Community Party to prove that America (after New Deal, New Society and Jimmy Carter) already had gone communist. He must be turning in his grave now with TARPS and bank “nationalisations”.

  8. Michael 9

    On the question of class.

    How is the State House kid not working class?

    His solo Mum, state home, state schooling and childhood income all indicate a working class kid.

    I assume then he moved from working class into the middle class through his education, business & politics.

    This would reinforce the ability of all to change their respective class, and so class is a fluid artificial construct.

    Therefore all class struggles are doomed, if a class struggle wins, it only wins by the raising of the working class to their perception of being middle class and in so doing dooms the working class.

    The alternative I see is the Maoist, British, Indian caste structure, inherited and inescapable.

    • Felix 9.1

      You’re describing the transition of specific individuals between classes, not the elimination of a class itself.

      Do you think that if all of the cleaners and labourers retrained and became better-paid as accountants and doctors that we would suddenly no longer require cleaners and labourers? Who fills those roles? And how are their conditions better than those of their predecessors?

    • IrishBill 9.2

      Back in the day state houses were not just for the working classes. There were a lot of middleclass people who lived in them including a lot of professionals.

      This deliberate “statehouse boy made good” misrepresentation pisses me off because the last National government’s policy of selling statehouses had a lot to do with the current ghettoisation that misrepresentation plays on.

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