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The Political Scientist: Underneath the ‘underclass’

Written By: - Date published: 1:13 pm, July 31st, 2012 - 7 comments
Categories: class war, Deep stuff, poverty - Tags: ,

Many of those who participate in the comments here at The Standard also run their own excellent blogs. We regularly feature No Right Turn and Imperator Fish. Today we’re reposting (with permission) pieces from two other blogs that attracted some attention in Open mike recently. Here’s the second one, from The Political Scientist


Underneath the ‘underclass’

Posted on 29th Jul, 2012 by Puddleglum

Out of the mouths of rednecks

Joe Bageant died on the 26th of March last year.

Apparently, he was sometimes referred to as an American ‘leftneck’ – which is not a bad label for him.

Bageant’s book (and, more generally, his literary life) has been devoted to laying out the answer to a question that, if considered at all, is usually given a ‘once over lightly’ varnish of simplistic rhetoric substituting for a real understanding or explanation.

The question in question is “Why is there a so-called ‘underclass’?”

I was thinking of writing a post about what he had to say on this after I recently finished his memoir “Rainbow Pie“.

I didn’t get around to it.

Then, I was reminded it would be a good idea after reading the comments in response to Matt McCarten’s piece ‘Cheerful free-market ride about to nosedive‘.

But I still didn’t get around to it.

Then, I remembered that this year – and this term of a National-led government – is going to see a focus on supposed ‘welfare reform’. According to John Key, this will involve “a comprehensive reform of the benefit system, building off the recommendations of the Welfare Working Group“. [An outline of the establishment of the Welfare Working Group and its subsequent reports, in full, can be viewed here.].

In fact, over two years ago – and long before Joe Bageant’s death – Minister of Social Welfare Paula Bennett bluntly told the unemployed that the (bad?) “dream is over” (sadly, she didn’t mean that National had a plan to provide jobs)

This ‘welfare reform’ initiative builds upon other ‘reforms’ first announced in August last year which indicated use of the private sector to ‘case manage’ young people, including those on the Independent Youth Benefit (about 1600 under 18 year olds) and a further 11,900 under 18 year olds not in work or education.

But I still didn’t get around to it.

Then, the onslaught began as a slew of welfare reform proposals – and strangely timed kite-flying – rained down on us: long-lasting contraception for beneficiaries; various requirements for DPB recipients to seek work while their children are young; penalties for beneficiaries who refuse or fail pre-employment drug testsproviding food parcels rather than food grants to beneficiaries, etc..

National clearly has its sights on ‘the underclass’.

The final nail in the coffin of my tardiness was the National Party Conference this year. As well as the Prime Minister’s general bullishness about his party’s “absolute mandate and authority” supposedly gained at the last General Election, there was, yet again, the aggressive assertion of the ‘rightness’ of the government’s ‘welfare reform’ agenda:

Today [22 July, 2012] delegates will also debate the next round of welfare reform.

“We will be introducing social obligations, so they will have to enrol their child in early childhood education and get well-checks at the doctor by enrolling with the local PHO,” Social Development Minister Paula Bennett told 3News.

“If you have kids, then you will lose 50 per cent of your benefit. That’s the worst case scenario. We hope it doesn’t get to that.”

Given all of that political provocation, now I’m finally getting around to it. So, just why is it that there is a so-called underclass?

In Bageant’s estimates, America has a white underclass – alone – that numbers around 60 million people. Using his criteria, it’s anyone’s guess what the same figure – for all ethnic groups – would be in New Zealand.

So why is there such a large so-called ‘underclass’ in supposedly ‘advanced economies’?

There’s two general proposals to answer this question: One type of analysis focuses on deindustrialisation and the shift to unreliable low-paid service sector jobs; Another increasingly common analysis sees the primary cause in a permissive welfare state.

It is this second ‘analysis’, of course, by which the National-led government seems primarily driven.

Both of these proposals are based on particular events and processes in particularsocieties.

But there’s a more general approach that I’m interested in here: What are the basic processes of change that lead to the creation of a so-called underclass, irrespective of the particular place and time?

Before answering this more general question, it’s worth reviewing the particularexplanations that have been given in the New Zealand context.

In New Zealand, the usual place to begin – for those on the right – is the establishment of welfare (see my take on that explanation here – it concerns Don Brash’s convictions in this regard). Hot on the heels of this virtue-sapping institution, according to the familiar narrative, was the abrupt arrival of the ‘permissive society’ and a lax, liberal social climate.

This latter was inspired by everything from rock music, leftie academics swanning around university campuses in Europe and the United States (aped elsewhere by wannabe celebrity academics preaching ‘people’s revolutions’), Dr Spock, ‘political correctness’ and other morally weakening conditions too numerous to list.

This concoction of moral corrosivity was the result of unceasing efforts by an amorphous group – often termed ‘liberals’ in the vernacular – apparently intent on undermining the moral order for no greater reason than the perverse pleasure they gained from those attempts.

The overall effect, so the story goes, was to undermine personal responsibility, ‘good parenting’ and community in general. This sapping of the population’s moral character has resulted in widespread and “deeply ingrained … drug and welfare dependency.”

The other explanation proffered in New Zealand’s case is the effect of the 1980s and 1990s radical restructuring of New Zealand’s economy and, therefore, society.

Roger Douglas looms large in this version, as the initiator of changes that wrecked communities, families and individuals. Evidence in support includes rising rates of most social ills, increased rates of psychological disturbance and suffering and casualisation and insecurity of employment.

The picture painted in this version is less about the undermining of the moral (or ‘behavioural’) fabric as it is about the direct tearing apart of social and economic fabrics. Communities that, for generations, had stable employment and prosperity – often on the back of public sector dominated industries and infrastructure – were suddenly cut adrift, with individuals required, in essence, to look after themselves.

All of that immense destruction was supposedly a creative force to unleash innovation, ‘real jobs’ and a vital and vibrant new New Zealand. The ‘collateral damage’, however, has been with us since and been topped up regularly with each new ripple of neoliberal policy enacted.

But, as I said, there’s a second way to answer this question and it involves looking for a general explanation or theory of what produces – at any time and in any place – a marginalised, so-called dysfunctional ‘underclass’.

My answer, in that generic vein, goes like this.

The first step is that viable cultures that have often sustained themselves effectively for decades or hundreds, even thousands, of years dissolve or are actively dismantled as a result of externally imposed change.

In English history there are plenty of examples of just this process that set the scene (and forged the initial pattern) for the ‘development’ of the rest of the world and the consequent ubiquitousness of various forms of ‘underclass’.

The examples, for England, include the progressive removal of the customary and legal rights of peasants in the Feudal system; enclosure of the commons (and, hence, removal of the options for a way of life); the flight of unemployed agricultural workers to urban areas to form the new urban working class; and, through ‘deindustrialisation’, the dismantling of those urban, working class communities that existed, for example, next to coal mines or shipyards, etc..

At each turn of that particular historical wheel a ‘new class’ was generated that, in essence, was a class without a viable means of reproducing its previous way of life.

What is missed – or glossed over – in this kind of account, however, is that the loss of this ability to reproduce a ‘culture’ or ‘community’ has direct implications for creating individuals. People are, principally, socio-cultural products rather than biological ones. This might come as a surprise to some so I’ll explain the point further.

Human beings are principally biologically defined (and reproduced) but persons are defined and generated only within a socio-cultural setting. A person, so to speak, is what a society does with a human being.

To invert Thatcher’s well-known comment:  there’s no such thing as an individual person outside of a society. There is, however, such a thing as an individual human being outside of society, but most of us wouldn’t wish that fate on our worst enemy. To be unacknowledged by a social world is to cease to be, as a person. As William James pointed out in his Principles of Psychology:

No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed.

The conclusion is obvious: to dismantle a culture – or, more generally, the way of life of a particular group – is, in effect, to dismantle the very ‘machine’ that creates and develops individual persons.

The second step towards the creation of an underclass takes place in the vacuum created by the – sometimes incremental and sometimes only partial – destruction of this ‘person-creating’ machinery. The next essential step is the exploitation of the fractured remnants of the culture or social group – in other words, of the remaining individuals by those groups who are fully acculturated within the ‘new’ way of life.

This turns out to be relatively easy because the very attitudes and values carried along by the individual members of the dismantled group are, inevitably, ill-suited to the new arrangements. Cooperative, collective values, for example, do not serve one well in a system predicated on the pursuit of individually-defined ends. In a competitive context, then, such ‘fragments’ (i.e., persons) are relatively easy to use for other purposes (e.g., as consumers) as they carry along with them residues of these no longer materially effective values and ways of operating.

In Bageant’s books you get a clear picture of the kinds of communities that gave rise to the modern American, white ‘underclass’. Surprisingly, those communities seem to possess none of the ‘suspect’ values or ways of life that might lead you to predict that they would – within a matter of a generation or so – be the seed-bed for today’s American underclass.

They were communities in which people had a very hard but nevertheless effective way of making a life for themselves by sheer dint of effort. As he described this quintessentially American, rural life:

The farm was not a business. It was a farm. Pap and millions of farmers like him were never in the ‘agribusiness’. They never participated in the modern ‘economy of scale’ which comes down to exhausting as many resources as possible to make as much money as possible in the shortest time possible.

Instead, this was a material life generated from a “community economic ecology” – a ‘culture’ – that brought with it a set of values honed to that way of life: Thrift, hard work, pragmatism, independence within a local and interdependent community.

But, it got dismantled.

When World War II began, 44 per cent of Americans were rural, and over half of them farmed for a living. By 1970, only five per cent were on farms.

Bageant describes the process in terms of the individuals of his childhood and youth. How they lived most of their lives and how that way of life disintegrated as they aged.

As one reviewer puts it:

Looking in on Joe’s world it’s immediately apparent that his dilemma in looking back, is that by the time capital got around to demolishing Joe’s “community economic ecology”, it had pretty much gotten through destroying everything else, in fact ever since the days when Joe’s ancestors landed in 1755. … So even while Joe’s community was still intact and functioning, it was already surrounded by an advancing tide of avarice and destruction.

What’s left is what Rainbow Pie describes, millions of poor, uneducated whites, who have been left to rot on a once intact rural ecology, just as the original inhabitants, or what’s left of them, have been left to rot on ‘reservations’ or to call them by their correct name, Bantustans.

And;

The rural life that Joe describes, though whilst poor, barely above subsistence level, nevertheless reveals a culture that was in balance with the environment and to Joe’s credit, it’s not a romanticized vision of a life lost but echoes a lost culture that used to be the bedrock of the life of millions of working Americans.

The creation of an underclass is a tried and true process. Again and again it has happened. As I said, it begins with the dismantling of a culture. But then comes the second body blow; the exploitation.

Bageant was pretty clear about that too. Once you’ve dismantled a way of life – an entire means of producing the material goods and meeting the needs of a community (as was the case with the viable Southern, white communities within which Bageant was raised) – you then fully and rapidly submerse the residue, the people, into the deep end of a new way of life within which the old values and attitudes cease to be effective, or are even counterproductive.

Bageant’s “community economic ecology” with its attendant dogged values and virtues is unsuited to a more individualistic life in which failure consciously and constantly to plan and strategise in your own self interest is punished.

A subsistence, community-based economic order is a very poor developmental environment for gaining the ‘aspirational’, self-focused world-view and associated values that are obsessively pursued by the modern, urban middle classes. Being outcompeted in the marketplace of success then becomes the likeliest result. So what do individuals caught in this predicament do?

The story then becomes a familiar one, and one to which, today, we are all susceptible.

We all know its allures and it’s called ‘consumerism‘ amongst the intelligentsia. But it’s pretty basic. Shops, loud tv ads, television, cell phones, cheap booze and fast food. Not purely an accident, either.

Try the BBC’s ‘Century of the Self’ for size.

Or, read clinical psychologist David Smail’s Origins of Unhappiness, especially chapter 4, a case study of Britain in the 1980s. His withering description of a working class, ‘all-consuming’ family on a train, is a study in modern tragedy and pathos. (At a personal level it amounts to a description of my own extended family who remain in the North of England.)

For Bageant, the all-consuming self of the consumer is the only viable means of living left to those whose previous ways of living – and the skills adaptive within it – have been destroyed, dismantled, dissolved and disintegrated. And it has odd effects.

The paradox of Joe’s underclass is that it has been harnessed by the most Conservative elements in US capitalism and for a lot of reasons. Firstly, Joe’s community has always been very religious and secondly conservative with a small c. Thirdly, it’s been jettisoned as being surplus to requirement by what Joe calls the urban-based Establishment except when it comes to voting day. Stereotyped as ignorant and inbred hillbillies in the mass media (shades of ‘Deliverance’), the only ‘voice’ they have is one supplied to them by the likes of Oral Roberts et al, who allegedly speak on their behalves. After all, forty million voters come election time is a pretty big slice of the action.

This explains in part why so many people can be screwed over and over again and yet never revolt. The other part is the simple fact that they are mostly illiterate and deliberately under-educated, fed on a diet which is literally killing them physically and mentally.

As yet another reviewer cites the words of Bageant directly:

The bottom line, however, is that they can’t read. Feel free to blame anyone you choose, except the free-market system’s extreme preference for dim-witted consumers and workers …

Ultimately, these kids will join the millions of adults who cannot read. And they cannot read because:  1. They do not have the necessary basic skills, and don’t give a rat’s ass about getting them; 2. Reading is not arresting enough to compete with the electronic stimulation in which their society is immersed; 3. They cannot envisage any possible advantage in reading, because the advantages stem from extended personal involvement, which they have never experienced, are conditioned away from, and is understandably beyond their comprehension; and 4. Their peers do not read as a serious matter, thereby socially reinforcing their early conclusion that it’s obviously not worth the time and effort.

Again, from Bageant:

When it comes to the underclass, there is no arguing that some people are members because they are so damned uneducated they cannot count their toes or read well enough to fill out a job app, the causes of which are too deep and tangled to go into at the moment. Others just don’t care to do the smiling grammatically correct wimp assed customer service zombie thing. They prefer swinging a bigger hammer than that – doing real work, like America used to do. And doing it without kissing ass, which is why they are called the “permanently jobless.” As sociologist Christopher Jencks points out, “There is no absolute standard dictating what people need to know in order to get along in society. There is however, an absolute rule that you get along better if you know what the elite knows than if you do not.

In this way it can come to seem as if the problems of the ‘underclass’ boil down to the ‘choices’ and behaviours of the individuals in the ‘underclass’. It can appear as ‘moral failing’, ‘ignorance’ and the like. It can come to be seen as the necessary outcome of so-called ‘welfare dependency’.

But it isn’t. The so-called underclass simply faces more acutely than the rest of us a realisation about the modern world that is almost as punishing as the anguish James predicts would arise “if every person we met ‘cut us dead,’ and acted as if we were non-existing things“.

In the end, there’s an underclass simply because ‘we are all individualistic now’.

Underneath the underclass is simply the logic of today’s world.

Without wanting to distract attention from the severe plight of those most clearly at the sharp end of this experience, there is a real sense in which we are all experiencing, day to day, the forces that push people into the so-called underclass.

Lives – and ways of life – are being dismantled constantly. Many in the middle class are simply better able to afford the self-medications and have the wherewithal to put enough strapping around the ‘centre’ to ensure it holds together each day.

But there’s always the fear that the strapping will come loose. The last word on the scale of the underclass belongs to Joe Bageant:

If in my travels and experience in American life I see that tens of millions of Americans being screwed silly by a handful of chiselers at the top, or if I see one percent of Americans earning as much annually as the bottom 45 percent of Americans, then that 45 percent is an underclass.  When I see a 70 year old man on his second pacemaker limping through Wal-mart as a “greeter” so he can pay at least something on last winter’s heating bill this month, then he is part of an underclass.  When I see the humiliated single mom waitress tugging downward on the ridiculously short red plastic skirt she must wear at the Hooter’s type joint so her crotch won’t show, she’s part of an underclass of humiliated and socially oppressed people. Screw the hairsplitting about who qualifies as underclass and what color they are. Just fix it. Or reap the consequences.

7 comments on “The Political Scientist: Underneath the ‘underclass’”

  1. The ‘underclass’ is bullshit bourgeois term for the ‘reserve army’ of the proletariat or ‘surplus population’ terms which Marx used to describe a widening layer of those at the bottom of the working class as capitalism sucked the blood out of those who produce the wealth and accumulate it as the prize of their natural selection.
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/46658784/The-Capital-by-Karl-Marx#outer_page_793.

    • I agree, and that’s why I put it in quote marks and tried to keep saying ‘so-called underclass’.

      I know that Marx used those other terms but that’s because he had a theory into which those terms fitted and had meaning. Imagine the term ‘surplus population’ being used by a Tory – outside of Marx’s theory – and it could sound pretty bourgeois itself.

      Exploiting the ‘underclass’ is much the same as using it as a ‘reserve army’ of labour (and of consumers, I guess). The economic function is an important consequence whatever the term. 

  2. Populuxe1 2

    There’s two general proposals to answer this question: One type of analysis focuses on deindustrialisation and the shift to unreliable low-paid service sector jobs; Another increasingly common analysis sees the primary cause in a permissive welfare state.

    It is this second ‘analysis’, of course, by which the National-led government seems primarily driven.

    I disagree. National is primarily driven by neoliberal scum obsessed with the former and who are ascendant over the tory scum obsessed with the latter, but throw the tories welfare reform as a sop.

    The picture painted in this version is less about the undermining of the moral (or ‘behavioural’) fabric as it is about the direct tearing apart of social and economic fabrics. Communities that, for generations, had stable employment and prosperity – often on the back of public sector dominated industries and infrastructure – were suddenly cut adrift, with individuals required, in essence, to look after themselves.

     
    That’s not accurate, especially of New Zealand. Rural and small comunity life has always been very unstable and hard, dependent on weather, markets, and other variables. Similarly farming communities have always relied heavily on itinerant workers, both “surplus males” and seasonal professionals like shearers, shepherds and fruit pickers – individuals who look after themselves. And while I believe government should be working hard to create a job rich environment, I think it would be failing if it did this primarily by inventing jobs through public sector dominated industries and infrastructure – a Potemkin solution if ever there was one.
     
    To invert Thatcher’s well-known comment:  there’s no such thing as an individual person outside of a society. There is, however, such a thing as an individual human being outside of society, but most of us wouldn’t wish that fate on our worst enemy. To be unacknowledged by a social world is to cease to be, as a person.

    While that is true within a fairly reductive definition of society, what neoliberal capitalism (and totalitarian communism) actually wants is a mass of non-individuals, drones who can be easily and cheaply controlled. Or are you just advocating for the crab bucket of complacent mediocrity? Individuals are frequently the great innovators largely because they feel less bound to pressure to conform to traditional prejudices. Society is also made up of subcultures with diverse value structures – being unemployed, for example, doesn’t suddenly mean you cease to exist. Society consists of consenting individuals, it is a self-perpetuating construct. To completely submit to Society in return for security is also to cease to be as a person – that’s why tens of thousands of people risked their lives defecting from the communist bloc, not because they were particularly inspired by the baubles of capitalism.
     

    A subsistence, community-based economic order is a very poor developmental environment for gaining the ‘aspirational’, self-focused world-view and associated values that are obsessively pursued by the modern, urban middle classes. Being outcompeted in the marketplace of success then becomes the likeliest result. So what do individuals caught in this predicament do?

    Well one thing they shouldn’t do is stick their heads up their arses in a fit of class-conscious snobbery about people’s choices in popular entertainment because that would be distinctly unhelpful. Are you seriously trying to suggest that the urban middle classes don’t have a sense of community, because following the Christchurch earthquakes it was bloody obvious to me that they did? Suddenly everyone who lives in the suburbs is a solipsistic and complacent John Key? That is breathtakingly arrogant. It is also rather patronsing of this “subsistence, community-based economic order” as if they’re all somehow too stupid to understand the nature of their predicament.
     
     

     
     
     
     

    • Hi Populuxe1,

      I disagree. National is primarily driven by neoliberal scum obsessed with the former and who are ascendant over the tory scum obsessed with the latter, but throw the tories welfare reform as a sop.

      I’m not sure but I think your confusing my point about two different ways that social scientists (and others) have tried to explain the development of a so-called underclass. I said that National is adhering to the second view (that it’s all down to welfare) solely based on the policy prescriptions they are pushing through, which are only justifiable, rhetorically, by their claim (that I think is false) that it’s all about ‘welfare dependency’.

      I agree that ‘welfare reform’ is also a distraction from other issues – but I was simply looking at how we might explain those policies on some sort of supposed explanation of why the so-called underclass (who are the target of the policies) came to exist.

      That’s not accurate, especially of New Zealand” 

      Very possibly. But I wasn’t claiming the story was correct, just that that was the story put forward (which I think it often is).

       “While that is true within a fairly reductive definition of society, what neoliberal capitalism (and totalitarian communism) actually wants is a mass of non-individuals, drones who can be easily and cheaply controlled.

      I think you’re reading more into my words than I put into them. What I was explaining in that extract was how persons are created, not how dependent or independent individual persons are of social norms, rules, roles or whatever you want to call society’s explicit ‘rules’.  

      Put it this way, individuality, autonomy and the ability to break free from what society expects or demands is something that only a person can do just because they are social creations.

      I think you’re mistaking my comment about the origins of persons (i.e., how we get these things we call persons in the universe) with some notion that I think that society ‘controls‘ these persons. The thing about persons is that they are autonomous or have the capacity to be autonomous (even if they don’t exercise or haven’t developed that capacity). And, no, I’m not advocating for crab bucket mediocrity – quite the opposite. That’s why I want a society that generates more than drones.

      Are you seriously trying to suggest that the urban middle classes don’t have a sense of community, because following the Christchurch earthquakes it was bloody obvious to me that they did? Suddenly everyone who lives in the suburbs is a solipsistic and complacent John Key?

      No, I’m not suggesting that the urban middle class doesn’t have a sense of community – but that doesn’t preclude an obsession (maybe that’s too harsh a word) with ‘aspiring’ and a focus on the values of status based on position in the economic hierarchy. Sure, when an earthquake happens we all help our neighbours but, when work calls, we’re off to our jobs to keep the mortgage payments up – and we leave the remaining silt shovelling to someone else.

      And I didn’t mention anything about stupidity. There’s nothing stupid about being raised according to certain values and then living by them and doing your best to get by in a society arranged in a way that means following those values and ways of living isn’t rewarded – or is even actively punished.

      Why is that stupid? Or do you just think it’s stupid for someone not to instantly adopt the ways of the culture that is dominant and has been responsible for destroying the viability of their own way of living and values?

  3. blue leopard 3

    “Of Systems of Political Economy

    Political Economy, considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator, proposes two distinct objects; first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or, more properly, to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and, secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign.” (p341)

    …so if this quote from Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” still holds true; that there is a so called “underclass” is a monumental failure of governing bodies throughout the Nations that hold Mr Smith as still relevant reading.

    Rather than seeing this phenomenon of so called “underclass” for what it is, a symptom of poor policies, the recipients of this failure are touted as the cause.

    As I understand it; money was revered as “the great equalizer”; allowing more than those who were born into wealth to create wealth for themselves and become influential people in society; i.e allowed for social mobility. Now we appear to be heading back to a situation of less social mobility.

    New Zealand isn’t there yet, yet we are headed in that direction; an expected result due to the Nations whose policies we appear to be slavishly following, appear to be further along that path.

    So what’s going on?

    Perhaps when both people and governing bodies “get” it; that our collective fates are entwined, we rise together and we fall together as a society, things might start heading in a more positive direction…?….

    • rosy 3.1

      “i.e allowed for social mobility. Now we appear to be heading back to a situation of less social mobility”

      We still have social mobility – but it’s in a downward direction – the middle class is squeezed and the underclass is growing.

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    A briefing to the Minister of Education reveals 20,000 at-risk students can’t be found, undermining claims by Hekia Parata that a new funding model would ensure additional funding reached students identified as at-risk, says Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins. ...
    3 days ago
  • Crime continues to rise
    Overall crime is up five per cent and the Government just doesn’t seem to care, says Labour’s Police Spokesperson Stuart Nash. ...
    3 days ago
  • Treasury fritters $10 million on failed state house sell off
    The Treasury has wasted $10 million in two years on the National Government's flawed state house sell off programme, including nearly $5.5 million on consultants, says Labour Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. "New Zealand needs more state housing than ever, with ...
    3 days ago
  • National slow to learn new trade lessons post TPPA
    Yesterday, the Minister for Trade misused economic data in order to try to make the case for more so-called ‘trade agreements’ like the TPPA which are actually deregulatory straitjackets in disguise. In welcoming a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade ...
    GreensBy Barry Coates
    3 days ago
  • Skilled migrant wages plummeting under National
    Wages have plummeted for people with skilled migrant visas working in low-skilled occupations, driving down wages for workers in a number of industries, says Labour’s Immigration Spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway. “Documents acquired by Labour under the Official Information Act reveal that ...
    3 days ago
  • Child abuse apology needed
    The Government's failure to act on recommendations from Judge Henwood, based on years of work by the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) will further undermine any faith victims may have put into the process, says Labour’s Children’s Spokesperson Jacinda ...
    3 days ago
  • Reserve Bank again highlights National’s housing failure
    National’s failure to deal with the housing crisis in New Zealand is once again being exposed by the Reserve Bank today, in a scathing assessment of the Government’s response, says Labour Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson “Governor Wheeler is clearly worried ...
    3 days ago
  • Palm Oil Labelling: Possible Progress?
    On Friday, the Minister for Food Safety, along with her Australian colleagues finally looked at the issue of mandatory labelling of palm oil. We’ve been calling for mandatory labelling for years and we were hoping that the Ministers would agree ...
    GreensBy Mojo Mathers
    3 days ago
  • National: Fails to achieve
    The ineffectiveness of the National Government’s approach to schooling has been highlighted by the latest Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) report released overnight, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. ...
    3 days ago
  • Faster into Homes – a new pathway for first home buyers
    This week Parliament will select another members’ bill from the cookie tin (I kid you not, it really is a cookie tin) and I’ve just launched a new bill I’m hoping will get pulled – to help people get into ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    3 days ago
  • Selling off our state housing stock isn’t working for NZers
    I want to end homelessness and ensure that everyone has a warm, safe, dry home. This National Government has let down New Zealanders, especially the thousands of New Zealanders who are struggling with something so basic and important as housing. ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    3 days ago
  • Government needs to ensure fair deal on EQC assessments
    Kiwis affected by earthquakes might not get a fair deal if the Government pushes ahead with secret plans to let private insurers take over the assessment of claims, says Labour’s Canterbury spokesperson Megan Woods. “Under questioning from Labour the Government ...
    4 days ago
  • Key’s priorities the real ‘load of nonsense’
    The Prime Minister’s fixation with tax cuts, despite a failure to pay down any debt and growing pressure on public services is the real ‘load of nonsense’, says Labour Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.  “We’re getting mixed messages from National. John ...
    4 days ago
  • Free Speech and Hate Speech
    Last week we were very concerned to hear that an Auckland imam, Dr Anwar Sahib, had been preaching divisive and derogatory messages about Jewish people and women during his sermons. It was a disturbing incident coming at the end of ...
    GreensBy James Shaw
    4 days ago
  • Young Kiwis struggling under record mortgage debt
    The Government needs to step in and start building affordable homes for first homebuyers now more than ever, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    4 days ago
  • Tairāwhiti says No Stat Oil!
    Tairāwhiti says yes to a clean environment for our mokopuna today and for generations to come. Tairāwhiti are have a responsibility to uphold their mana motuhake over their land and their peoples and are calling on the Government to honour ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    5 days ago
  • Swimmable Rivers tour – Ōkahukura/Lucas Creek
    When Environment Minister Nick Smith said in Parliament that some waterways – like Auckland’s Lucas Creek – are not worth saving because no-one wants to swim in them, he forgot to ask the locals we met last week who have put ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    5 days ago
  • Wellington business relief package needs flexibility
    The Government’s Wellington business support package is welcome news but needs to be implemented so that all affected businesses get the help they need, says Labour MP for Wellington Central Grant Robertson. “Wellington businesses will be pleased that the Government ...
    5 days ago
  • EQC’s staff cuts show disregard for quake victims
    The Earthquake Commission’s stubborn insistence on slashing its workforce and its operational funding by nearly half shows callous disregard for victims of the Kaikoura earthquake and the thousands of Cantabrians still waiting to resolve claims, says Labour’s Canterbury spokesperson Megan ...
    5 days ago
  • Maori Land Court job losses must be delayed
    Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell must request that pending job losses at the Māori Land Court are put on hold until the Māori land reform process is resolved and the risk of losing centuries of collective institutional knowledge is ...
    5 days ago
  • Financial support needed for urgent earthquake strengthening
    The Government must provide urgent support to residents for important earthquake strengthening work so that it happens quickly, says Grant Robertson, Wellington Central MP.  "I support the call from Wellington Mayor Justin Lester to bring forward work to strengthen the ...
    1 week ago
  • Labour welcomes equal pay
    Labour has long appreciated the value of women’s work and welcomes the Government’s decision to address pay equity for women, say’s Labour’s associate Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson Sue Moroney. ...
    1 week ago
  • Surgeons’ letter a damning indictment
    A letter from Waikato Hospital’s orthopaedic surgeons claiming that hospital managers are stopping them from making follow-up checks on patients is a damning indictment of the health system, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King.  “It’s terrifying that one woman’s elective ...
    1 week ago
  • Out of touch Nats continue state house sell-off
    The Government should be focused on building houses for families to buy and more state houses for families in need, not flogging them off, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “National’s state house sell-off does nothing to help people ...
    1 week ago
  • Joyce drags feet while Capital businesses suffer
     Wellington businesses affected by the earthquake are continuing to struggle while the Government drags its feet on getting a business assistance package up and running, says Grant Robertson, Wellington Central MP.  “Steven Joyce needs to front up with an assistance ...
    1 week ago
  • Health and Safety Act fails to reduce work fatalities
    After the Pike River tragedy, New Zealanders realised that workplace health and safety culture needed to change. Last Saturday marked the 6th anniversary of the tragedy that killed 29 miners at the Pike River mine on the West Coast of ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    1 week ago
  • What is the point of education?
    The proposed Education (Update) Bill is the Government’s statement about what the point of education is, and what it means to people. This week we had a day of Select Committee hearings in Auckland on the Bill. It’s a huge ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    1 week ago
  • Earthquake exposes training shortfall
    Kaikoura’s earthquakes have exposed the Government’s under investment in critical building and construction skills training, says Labour’s Building and Construction spokesperson Phil Twyford. “The Government needs to urgently ramp up the training of Kiwis in construction and engineering in the ...
    1 week ago
  • More cops needed to get P off our streets
    National’s cuts to Police funding and drug enforcement officers has seen a surge in cheap P on our streets, says Labour’s Police spokesperson Stuart Nash. ...
    1 week ago
  • Who’s calling the shots? Bye bye surplus
    I would love to know who is calling the shots in the National government’s cabinet when it comes to deciding how best to spend taxpayers’ money.  On the evidence of the last few weeks, it definitely isn’t Finance Minister Bill ...
    GreensBy David Clendon
    1 week ago
  • Urgent rethink needed on workplace safety
      An urgent rethink is needed on the Government’s new workplace safety laws with the number of deaths this year already at the same level as at the same time in the 2015 calendar year, says Labour’s Associate Workplace Safety ...
    1 week ago
  • Rubble and rubbish: spending time in post-quake Kaikōura
    I visited Kaikoura over the weekend – basically to see how the community was coping with all the rubbish and rubble created by last week’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and to see my brother Rob. I may have mentioned before that ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    1 week ago
  • Time to pull the plug on state house sell-off
    The collapse of the planned sell-off of state houses in Horowhenua is an opportunity for the Government to call time on its troubled state house sell off policy, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Treasury sounds warning bell – but National’s not listening
    Today's long term fiscal outlook issued by The Treasury is a welcome wake-up call on the need to dramatically improve and diversify our economy and properly plan for the future, Grant Robertson, Labour’s Finance Spokesperson says. “Through our Future of Work ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Don’t believe the hype – debt has skyrocketed under National
    The reckless dangling of tax cuts by the National Government is all the more irresponsible when it is put alongside the failure to pay down debt or put money aside for future superannuation costs, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Our kids deserve better
    We don’t know how many children are affected by having learning support needs. I do know that far too many children are not getting the support they deserve for conditions like autism, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. When these conditions are not ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    2 weeks ago
  • Talk of tax cuts is plain crazy
      John Key’s talk of tax cuts when the Government has $63 billion of debt, superannuation costs are rising by $1 billion a year and the cost of meeting another natural disaster, is just plain crazy, says Labour Leader Andrew ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Green policies support Labour’s housing plan
    The Green Party’s housing package is a welcome complement to Labour’s plan to fix the housing crisis, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. “It’s clear that, to get the affordable homes we need and save the Kiwi dream of ...
    2 weeks ago

Today is the day of the Mt Roskill by-election. To be safe under the legislation, there will be no further comment on that election until after the polls close at 7pm. Transgressors will receive lengthy bans.