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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Jill Ovens – Working-class Hero

Lenin had a phrase for those who throw revolutionary rhetoric around without actually getting their hands dirty in the real work of working class politics; he said such people suffered from "an infantile disorder". Someone anonymously called Jill Ovens "a class traitor" on the NZ-Aotearoa Indymedia site. This is not only the action of a coward who won’t put their name to what they say, but also the pathetic voice of one of the "mere babblers", another apt descriptive phrase of Lenin’s.
Jill’s victory over Darien Fenton’s anointed successor to the Northern region Service and Food Workers’ Union (SFWU) secretary’s position is an extremely important and historical achievement. A socialist in the political tradition of the early Labour Party and the theoretical tradition of Ralph Miliband is now the elected leader of the largest region of the SFWU. Jill will build a model democratic union in the SFWU if she has her way. She has overwhelming support from the organisers and staff, and an impressive mandate from the union membership (via their selected delegates) to do so. This can only be good for the working class.
The SFWU is the largest union of low-paid workers and the Left should get right in behind the project to make it an even more powerful and effective tool to fight for the interests of the most downtrodden workers in NZ. In the process SFWU members will be politicised in ways the current bureaucratic union methods prevent.
For those who condemn her for joining Labour, a little more reading of Lenin might convince you that this was not the actions of a traitor, but rather the actions of a courageous and politically savvy hero of the working class.
It was Jill’s own supporters among the delegates, those who were campaigning on her behalf, who urged her to join Labour. The opposition tactic was to raise the bogey that Jill was not Labour and that it was all an Alliance plot to take over the trade unions.
In her speech to the election conference Jill proudly ‘owned’ her role as the National Council representative on the Alliance caucus and her support for the scrapping of the ECA and the introduction of paid parental leave, both measures that the Alliance had a big hand in implementing. She also said in answer to the ‘Labour’ question from the floor: "I have joined Labour but I don’t want to make a big deal of it. It is of no greater relevance than whether I am Anglican or Catholic, they’re both on the side of God. The Alliance supports workers’ rights after all. The real question is who is the best person for the regional secretary’s job."
The reason for joining Labour was to deflate the opposition tactic of turning the election into one about party affiliation, rather than who was the best person for the job. Lenin would have approved. As he wrote in "Left-wing" Communism, An Infantile Disorder:
"One must use one’s own brains and be able to find one’s bearings in each particular instance. It is, in fact, one of the functions of ... leaders worthy of the name, to acquire ... the knowledge, experience and – in addition to knowledge and experience – the political flair necessary for the speedy and correct solution of complex political problems."
The SFWU election posed multiple complex political problems for the challenger. Success required the most careful attention to tactics (there is no winning strategy without winning tactics).
"It is entirely a matter of knowing how to apply these tactics in order to raise – not lower – the general level of proletarian class-consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win" (Lenin again). Note; the "ability to fight and win": this is what raises the consciousness of workers, and the members of the SFWU have gained a major win over the undemocratic, bureaucratic methods of the previous administration of the SFWU.
Lenin hammers home the point in the closing sentence of his chapter entitled "No Compromises?": "... political leaders of the revolutionary class are absolutely useless if they are incapable of ‘changing tack, or offering conciliation and compromise’ in order to take evasive action in a patently disadvantageous battle." The road to political success takes many twists and turns. Sometimes you have turn back temporarily to get around obstacles in your way before you move forward again.
Jill Ovens evaded the battle over party affiliation in order to ensure a win in the battle that mattered; the battle for the delegates’ votes. I supported this course of action. We flew by the seat of our pants a lot, but in the end we did not make any major blunders that would cost Jill the election, nor did we allow our opponents the chance to make much lee-way. Jill won handsomely; that was the testament to her tactical acumen (as well as her working-class politics).
Jill had good reasons to step back from the Alliance, and joining Labour does not mean she thinks there is no place for the Alliance. On the contrary the Alliance has a very important role to play as the socialist and left conscience of the wider labour movement. Many people who are Labour Party members and supporters acknowledge this, and the more the Left maintains a principled, ‘united front’ position with Labour and trade union people, the more credibility our left-of-Labour message will garner.

6 comments:

cbmilne33 said...

Tuesday/8 August/2006.Sender:Colin Bruce Milne.620 Park Road,Te Awamutu.Waikato.3800.Tel:07-871-7520.Dear Comrades/Citizens,I certainly do hope that Jill Ovens does know exactly what she is doing in transfering from my Alliance Party to the NZ Labour Party.I am still a bitter ender Alliance member who has kept on being a Victory For Labour/Labour Century Fund Donor only as my level of links to that other left party and do hope that we can coordinate our political strategies.Could our Alliance Party become a political affiliate of successive years to the NZLP,Green&Maori Parties as one way of building up ties to those organisations?By the way are you aware that the Waikato Regional Council/Waipa Constituency is having a bi-election in 2006 as is the Waipa Networks Trust and what can we do to coordinate with your Auckland Energy Consumer Trust Elections that are happening up your way and do not destabilise my campaigns with your actions please.Yours Fraternally,C.Bruce Milne.C.B.Milne.p.s.see:http://cbmilne33.blogspot.com

cbmilne33 said...

Sunday/13 August/2006.Sender:Colin Bruce Milne.620 Park Road,Te Awamutu.Waikato.3800.Tel:07-871-7520.Dear Comrades/Citizens,With the recent exit of Jill from our Alliance and our need to gather together even more I do think that one method of getting us talking together is to set up a http://alliancenz.blogspot.com,website linked to both the www.alliance.org.nz,and http://socialistunitynetwork.blogspot.com websites.I would like my own http://cbmilne33.blogspot.com,your http://newsoc.blogspot.com,+ Victor Billots,http://victorbillot.blogspot.com,and any other Alliance member etc blogs to be linked on it as well please to help us to get talking to each other.It could help if we listed our blogsites in our membership renewal forms as well.By the way with the annual editions of the Alliance Party Working Manifestos could we include an Alliance Organisational Directory in them please.Yours Fraternally,C.Bruce Milne.C.B.Milne.

cbmilne33 said...

Sunday/13 August/2006.Bruce here again are you aware that I was referred to your blog by the Trevor Loudon,http://newzeal.blogspot.com,ACT member,article which I have downloaded linked on my own blogsite.thanks mate.C.B.Milne

Anonymous said...

Hi Colin,

I hope you'll be at the Alliance National Conference again later this year.

It's going to be in Wellington.

I'll have to go and read your blog.

Solidarity,
Kane O'Connell

beepbeepitsme said...

RE Working Class Hero
"Keep You Doped With Religion And Sex And TV"
http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2006/08/keep-you-doped-with-religion-and-sex.html

Abdul el Razir said...

its about time that somebody took the bull by the proverbial horns and showed big business a thing or two. As Trotsky once valiantly stated, "Its big business that is bad for the rest of us"