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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Comments on The Hollow Men by Nicky Hager

It is important to put the unprincipled and even unlawful 2005 election campaign tactics of the National Party into the historical context of the last twenty five to thirty years. This period saw the collapse of the "historic compromise" based on an a "long-term reconciliation with capitalism" by the working class represented by the Labour Party and trade unions. According to Bruce Jesson, this compromise had its origins in the first Labour Government elected in 1935.
The compromise had two sides to it and was embedded in a global context. Internationally, after WWII, there was an historical compromise struck between capital and labour. Its economic basis was the ‘Bretton Woods’ agreement that set up the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Its political basis was hammered out between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin in talks at Yalta at the end of WWII. The threat of revolution subsided and capitalism was stabilised.
This compromise suffered meltdown from the late 1960s under the pressure of declining profit rates. By 1980, in the words of Senegalese Marxist economist Samir Amin, "the new single thought" of capitalist ideology guiding and justifying government policies all over the world had changed from Keynesian economic interventionism and welfare-statism, to one directing policies aimed at "systematically dismantling the specific rights that had been achieved by the workers and lower classes" .
In New Zealand this took the form of the introduction of neo-liberal ideas and policies by the 1984-1990 Labour Government in a country hitherto rightly considered as a bastion of Keynesian Welfarism. The neo-liberal "New Zealand Experiment", as it is known, is perhaps definitively depicted by Jane Kelsey in her book with that title. Bruce Jesson and others, including myself, have extensively explored the co-option of that Labour Government to the ends of the neo-liberal project.
Wayne Hope's forthcoming review of The Hollow Men in RED & GREEN 6 points out that the 2005 election campaign conducted by National was comparable to the 1987 Labour campaign. They were both based on "new right corporate backing and the construction of a deceptive communications strategy".
The same could also be said of the successful election campaigns of Labour in 1984 and National in 1990. These Governments were both elected on platforms which espoused the conventional class-compromise policies of the post-WWII period, but were Trojan-horse vehicles for the implementation of economic policies that were straight out of the neo-liberal text books.
In 1984 Lange was elected to end the oppressive regime of Muldoon but his finance minister, Roger Douglas, led the charge to corporatise, deregulate and privatise the economy. The electorate was deceived. Similarly, Jim Bolger was elected in 1990 on the slogan of creating a "decent society’, but Ruth Richardson carried on the ‘Rogernomics’ agenda with benefit cuts, the anti-union Employment Contracts Act and the continued sell-out of state-owned assets to her private business backers. Again the voters were betrayed.
In all three cases the electors were conned by clever election campaigns that concealed the real agendas that were to be implemented after the elections. National in 2005 systematically set out to repeat the feat. The fact that they failed (only by a whisker) does not detract from the perfidy involved. Nicky Hager’s book reveals how Ruth Richardson and Roger Douglas were intimately involved in the far-right take-over of National by Don Brash.
MMP was supported in 1993 by an electorate who saw proportional parliamentary representation as a way of breaking the treacherous two-party election swindle that they had endured for a decade or more. However, it was one of the MMP parties that next let the voters down (in 1996) with Winston Peters’ NZ First enabling the National Party to continue in office despite having camapigned against National before the election.
The Alliance and a Helen Clark-led Labour Party finally got their game together and began to turn the new-right revolution around with their victory in the 1999 election. But rust and the new-right never sleep.
The far-right cabal of Deane, Shirtcliffe, Richwhite, Fay, Myers, Heatley, Friedlander, Foreman, Colman, Farmer, Trotter (Ron) and others like Kerr, Scott and Brash from Treasury have been actively promoting the Freidman/Hayek, "Washington Consensus" strategy for more than two and a half decades. Their projects include the infiltration of Treasury, the colonisation of the Labour Party, the campaign against MMP, the formation of the Act party to make best advantage of MMP, the Brash coup in the National Party, and support for his surrogate John Key.
Hager exposes the key roles of these and other players like Michael Bassett and the perhaps less known supporting roles of the likes of Margaret Austin and David Caygill. The New Zealand working class public has been subject to the Machiavellien machinations of these political plotters for far too long.
Nicky Hager describes the Brash challenge to be leader of National as "not so much a leadership coup as a political coup, in which a group of ACT Party and others from the radical right succeeded in gaining control of the National leadership... This coup set the stage for a two-year fight in which Brash and his backers from the 1980s and 1990s tried to regain control of government." The revelations of the shadowy intrigue behind the election attack-ads on the Greens and Labour by the Exclusive Brethren cult, and their links with Brash (that are more fully exposed in Hager’s book), probably stymied this attempt in 2005.
But we can be sure this right-wing group who comprise some of the richest and most powerful people in New Zealand, whose agenda is intensely anti-working class (using that term in its broadest sense), is still actively plotting and planning to take power in the next election if they can. It is crucial to stop this happening and the left can thank Nicky Hager for providing, with The Hollow Men, an important tool to help do this.
Brash lost the support of his big-business backers because he failed to win the election and because his cover was blown. Brash’s far-right credentials and support was exposed to the sunlight of public scrutiny.
The myth now being promoted by former Brash supporters like spin-manager Richard Long is that Key is a "centrist". To think that John Key offers a ‘softer’ alternative to Brash would be a mistake. His speech to the 2006 National Party annual conference showed his true politics. He called for lower taxes and attacked public spending, red tape and overly protective labour laws.
Commentator Chris Trotter called this speech "pure Business Roundtable-speak" and noted that Key was the natural successor to Brash – the insurance policy for the right wing.
As Hager comments, National will "continue along the same tracks" under Key. "It would continue with the same strategies, the same political alliances and the same hidden agendas." If Brash is the archetypal Hollow Man, then Key is Hollow Man 2.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Reply to James (2)*

(*See comment to previous post)
You are, I think, being somewhat disingenuous with your criticism of Jill Ovens and her leadership of the SFWU members in the Air NZ outsourcing dispute. Rather than acting "immaturely and irresponsibly", Jill Ovens showed remarkable courage and strength of purpose in resisting strong pressure to concede to the EPMU/Air NZ-negotiated solution. Her determination reflected that of the members who stood with her.
The SFWU members involved voted five times to reject any attempts to destroy their existing CEA. They opposed accepting cuts in wages and conditions. They also strongly opposed the attempt to separate them from their fellow Air NZ workers who are parties to their collective. They were entitled to expect their CEA to be honoured and to maintain the position that they would renegotiate it when they had the right to take industrial action. This was a perfectly rational and responsible stand to make as workers and trade unionists.
The EPMU is to be congratulated for its democratic processes but democracy, as you well know, is constrained by the choices put before the electorate. The EPMU position was that the choice was between ‘outsourcing’ and ‘an in-house solution’. This thrust the EPMU members into a catch-22 situation where they were damned to accept cuts no matter which choice they made. It was a bit like giving a condemned person the choice of which form of execution they wanted. The dispute was allowed to be framed in the employer's terms. The SFWU chose to fight the dispute under their own terms, as was their right.
This fight included two highly successful mass-mailing campaigns to the Board of Air NZ. One was a postcard campaign. Thousands of signatures were collected from members of the public at places like markets. I helped to collect these and there was huge support for the workers and opposition to outsourcing. The other campaign was an email one organised through the international Labour Start website. This campaign had the biggest response ever recorded by Labour Start.
The SFWU position was simply "no concessions". The only way to stop cuts is to first of all reject the employer's right to make them. Workers of today do not have the right to give-back the hard won gains of workers of the past. Their duty to the class is to fight to retain and improve those past conquests. If this is your frame of reference then you will come up with the course of action that was decided upon by the SFWU members and Jill Ovens as their (elected) regional secretary.
As to some of your other analysis; it is an open question as to whether the Government’s position would have remained fixed. Governments have been known to change their minds under public pressure. A campaign by two of the country’s most powerful private-sector unions, supported by trade-union-backed Labour MPs, could have tested the Clark administration’s resolve. The public could expect a publicly-owned entity like Air NZ to listen to and act upon public concerns.
The argument that the Government cannot legally interfere in the running of state-owned enterprises and companies does not hold water. This is a matter of political will. Government’s can change laws or apply political pressure to appointed boards; it happens all the time. The neo-liberal legislation and assumptions from the 1980s that still underpin social and economic life in New Zealand should be challenged when they conflict with the public interest and the interests of workers.
The point about being in a "far worse" situation under the Swissport deal is also a moot one. The savings and conditions proposed by Swissport look remarkably similar to the in-house deal eventually struck. Before the SFWU pulled out of the process, experts from both unions examined the Swissport proposals as part of the process of developing an "in-house solution". Swissport’s $20 million-per-year claimed savings were shown to be only about $12 million worth: the same amount of saving being made by the EPMU/Air NZ-agreed deal. So workers would not have been "in a far worse position". In fact the Swissport outsourcing would have resulted in all the workers receiving a full redundancy pay-out, whether they were staying or transferring over. Only workers who leave the job in the face of a cut in basic pay rates will now get redundancy. The $3000 sweetener goes nowhere near making up for the lost wages or the forgone redundancy payout.
Similarly, you say that the workers are now not subject to a "retendering process" and are therefore are in a better position to claw the cuts back in the future. Two things: First, the threat of "retendering" in the form of outsourcing has not been permanently removed. It could be argued, as Jill Ovens has in fact done, that it will now be more attractive for the outsourcing to proceed in the future because the transition costs have largely been eliminated by the cuts already made in this current deal. Second, the workers’ position is not stronger but weaker, because, for one thing, they are separated off in a separate CEA from their fellow Air NZ workers who were previously under the same CEA.
The best way to claw back cuts is to not concede them in the first place. The SFWU have not conceded their wages and conditions, they have not been separated off into a different CEA; that is why the SFWU can rightly claim a victory. Of course there is still a fight on to maintain wages and conditions, but not conceding them in the first instance was a pre-condition to engaging in that fight. The SFWU is at least on the front foot, unlike the EPMU members who have a hard slog just to get back to where they were before.