'Purple Pixie Dust' - Young Labour
CONTENTS: Editorial: The Next Big Thing - Die ECA, die. Super: An Issue with Infinite Potential for Bad Puns Could this Happen to Your LEC??? (Yes, you do care) The News - This, That, and the Other. Web site of the week (kinda)
Editorial: The Next Big Thing
Ostensibly, I will claim that the reason that this column is a day late is because I was waiting for today's release of the government's plans to reform our workplace environment. That would be a lie. However today's announcements regarding the shape that the Workplace Relations Bill will take is a pretty good place to start.
The whole issue of employment relations really does serve as a microcosm that demonstrates the fundamental differences between the respective political philosophy's that underpin the right, and the left. This was absolutely notable when listening to Jenny Shipley on National Radio this morning. One of her comments went something along the lines of: "but employers and developers have really benefited from the Employment Contracts Act…" - hold on, I thought that government was there to do more than look after the economic interests of elite groups? I guess that makes me a crazy leftie who believes in cheesy clique's like: "for the many, not the few". The fact is that the vast majority of New Zealanders; both blue and white collar, are essentially workers, and the present regime is brutal and callous in the way that it strips them of effective means of protecting their collective interests. The new Bill, by promoting Good-faith-bargaining, and removing a number of ways in which employers can undermine the ability for workers to collectively organise, will place workplace relations on an eminently more equitable footing.
Another side to the new bill is the obligations that it places on Unions. They will, by statute, be required to be democratically accountable to their members. This, combined with other, very moderate aspects of the legislation (ie; no sympathy strikes, good faith bargaining) mean that the right's ballyhoo about a return to the days of Union bosses behaving like Mafia Godfathers are nothing but twaddle.
Populist twaddle from the slippery tongues of skilled right-wing politicians can however be very dangerous. They've been spouting this kind of scare-mongering crap for many years, and seem to get elected to office far more frequently than we do! As they have with the ACC reforms, National, ACT, and the business lobby will throw all their resources in to pulling the wool over people's eyes on this issue. We, as activists must be pro-active in persuading people that the new Bill is a change for the better.
There is no question that the Bill will be passed in to law. The Alliance and the Greens are supportive on all substantive aspects. If we do not win the public debate right now however, we'll be on the back foot on a major issue come the next election. So spread the gospel, and if you have any queries, have no hesitation in pestering your nearest (Labour) MP for clarification.
Super - an issue with infinite potential for bad puns
Yes, I'm 'super' excited about this one. Labour's 'super'b legislation has been a long time coming… you get the picture. I'm just waiting for some right wing dullard to issue a Press Release wittily titled: "Michael Cullen: super-stupid"', or something to that effect. Anyway, this is another major piece of new legislation that the government has just released details on. Importantly, it's another of the pre-election pledges that we put on those cute little cards.
The right still seemed to be rather shocked that we've actually been sticking to our promises, so it came as no surprise that they wasted no time windilly attacking Michael Cullen's proposal. I seriously think that they actually have a major philosophical objection to anyone in government sticking to their promises, and as such restoring public faith in democratic government. It suits the interests of capital far more for the institutions of state to be discredited and mistrusted.
National's initial attacks have been rich to the point of putting the Sultan of Brunei to shame. The best example of all must have been former Prime Minister, and interim National Party leader; Jenny Shipley, calling for inter-party discussion and consensus on the issue. Perhaps I'm mistaken in believing that it was the previous 'National-led-minority-administration' who: - dishonestly introduced the surcharge; - signed a multi-party accord, but then threw it out the window in its desperate kow-towing to Winston Peters' and his plans for compulsory savings; - and then shamelessly began slashing the level of super payments with a pretty clear long-term view to dismantling the scheme as we know it. Well thanks for your thoughts Jenny, but I'd rather my have my stomach surgically removed with a particularly blunt teaspoon than have my party do a deal with you.
One of the beauties of Labour's proposed scheme is that it would be statutorily entrenched - theoretically meaning that future governments will not overturn the legislation. The advantage of this is that people will be able to plan for their retirements with a clear indication of what they can expect in terms of government provision. Hopefully, the certainty that the state can be relied on to provide to a certain extent will remove the seemingly prevalent attitude that says: "screw it, I haven't got a tories chance at the ballot box of saving $400 000 dollars (or whatever), and I can't rely on Super, so why bother at all - we'll just see what happens".
There are two key aspects to Dr Cullen's scheme that I will cover briefly, but if you want a more detailed discussion of the whole kaboozle (I made that up - editorial license), then have a look at Jordan's 'On the Left' column at www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0003/S00061.htm- the following is basically an annotated version of the second half of that.
Firstly, the scheme is to be pre-funded. The idea behind this is one of inter-generational fairness - effectively, those who argue against pre-funding are saying that those who retire ought to live off those who are working at that time. Why is this unfair? Because our population is rapidly aging, meaning that there are fewer and fewer working people per retired person. As such, without pre-funding, the burden to support the retired is going to be far greater on the workers of 20 years time (us!!!) than it is on those working now (Mum and Dad). This is patently unfair; especially when given that because of tax cuts and the sale of revenue generating assets, and in the form of tertiary fees and other user pays policies, our generation seems to be paying for everything else that people of our parents generation had for free. Gee thanks neo-liberals.
Pre-funding also means a big fat old investment fund. This sounds rather scary to some people and will undoubtedly be presented by the right as a return to big-brother state socialism. This of course is bull-shit. Dr Cullen's proposal explicitly states that the fund will be managed at arms length from the state by a panel of experts. Further, the fund has many positive economic implications. Sensible investment not only helps to increase the productive capacity of our economy, but profits generated from overseas investments will go some way towards addressing our appalling balance of payment figures.
Secondly, Labour's scheme ensures that Super will retain a universal entitlement. Philosophically, the ideal of universalism is anathema to the right, but absolutely central to the historic Democratic Socialist mission of the Labour Party. Entitlements such as old-age security must be seen as basic rights of citizenship, not things to be tinkered with when we subjectively decide that some people 'don't really need it'. Universal provision of Superannuation also encourages higher levels of saving than targetting (as people do not save if they know that they will be punished for it). Further, it is highly efficient owing to decreased administrative costs, and the efficiencies of scale that are achieved.
Importantly targetting has a tendency to drift towards privitisation. Citizens who are excluded from provision are, by the laws of human self-interest unlikely to politically support such state provision in the long run. Only a universal system, that all citizens' benefit from is truly politically sustainable.
With a bit of co-operation from the Greens, who are being a bit difficult about the whole thing, the scheme ought to be passed through the House in pretty short order. The long-term implications are profound indeed, so it is worth examining the issues scrupulously. Then of course you'll realise that Labour's policy is about as perfect as you get. :-)
Could this happen to your LEC????
There's been a bit of talk lately about moving our Labour Electorate Committee's from being branch based structures, to well, non-branch based organisations. "Wow", you might say, "constitutional-structural modifications - how interesting", and I would note your deep and cutting sarcasm. Well the thing is, that there are actually some reasonably major implications to flow from any such wide spread movement, particularly if you're at all interested in the Labour Party as a body designed to ooh say, provide a forum for interest groups (democratic pluralism), and become an organic part of the communities in which we live.
The question about the worth of maintaining branch based LECs really stems from the fact that we don't really have branch based LECs. In most cases, this structure is frankly nominal, and it is indeed rumoured that some LECs really only maintain their branches on paper. I would tend to suggest then, that moving to abolish branches, and making LECs membership based is really "the wrong solution to the right problem". The logic is something like this: "we have a problem, so lets abolish any means of measuring the problem. Then we won't be aware that it exists!" I tend to disagree with such an approach.
Inert branches are a symptom of a wider problem in our party - too many inert members. Simply centralising our electorate bodies will do nothing to solve this, and probably perpetuate the malady. There are several reasons for a decline in the number active membersnecessary to make branches function, the first of which is simply a decline in the number of total members. Party membership, as it stands ( I understand around 12000) is well down on past levels. The encouraging thing is that it does however, seem to be on the rise; indeed, with an upcoming membership drive, there is a real feeling in some quarters that we may be about to experience a revival of Third Labour government proportions.
The key to maintaing these new members, in an active capacity must be to provide them with a meaningful outlet for their political convictions, and the opportunity to in a sense 'bond' with the organic fibre of the Party - to come to closely associate themselves with the core beliefs that we hold dear. I do not believe that this will happen if the 'grassroots' participation of members is limited to procedurally bound LEC meetings. Branches at their core represent small communities of interest, and it is within such embedded communities that strong party identification is formed. This is particularly true in the case of Special Branches, which represent the interests of various sectional groups (youth, women, rainbow etc) - any move towards widespread membership based LECs would marginalise these important voices within our party, and leave members disepowered (to use a wanky PC word).
Something of a vicious circle operates here. If branches are not functioning as effective representative bodies (or do not exist at all), then I believe we lose members who may otherwise be active. New members also have nothing immediate to attach themselves to, and as a consequence; fall by the wayside. With such people lost, branches become unviable. We must therefore maintain vigorous branches, both geographic and special.
The more informal meetings and the greater opportunity for policy discussion over party administrative concerns in these branches, make them ideal forums for members to feel as if they are actually contributing to the party, and playing a meaningful part in the Labour movement. If we are truly interested in internal democracy, then this type of wide-spread grassroots participation is the way to go. Of course, for this to work, structures must be in place to ensure that the signals emitted from branches are translated in to something more meaningful further up the line. This is not revolutionary - branches are all ready there as forums for discussion and debate; indeed policy remits for regional conferences are constitutionally supposed to originate from within branches. There simply needs to be a concerted effort to bring this re-animate this structure. There has recently been a move to do this within our University's, with the Princes Street (Auckland) moving towards a stronger policy focus, and other university clubs looking to formally embed themselves as branches. This is highly encouraging, and extremely healthy for the Party's internal democracy.
To follow this lead throughout the Party will require a number of committed individuals in each electorate, but will ultimately be far more productive than simply sweeping branches under the carpet.
*Note: Having said this, I am aware that there are cases were membership only LECs are working very effectively, and that there are a number of administrative advantages to such a structure.
The News - you got it here best, first and latest.
It's been a fairly busy week. The Prime Minister returned from Australia, and then popped over to Chile to participate in the inaugration of the first Socialist president of Chile since Salvador Allende. She also participated in a meeting of regional Socialist International party leaders/presidents, besides consolidating support for a broadening and deepening of New Zealand's trade relationships with Latin America. Having a Prime Minister who can speak Spanish may prove to be a useful thing!
The former Prime Minister, National Leader Shipley, correctly pointed out in a media release today that it would be a defining week for ACC and for jobs. Shipley is right, as she sometimes is. This is the week the ACC bill comes back to the house, restoring the social contract that ACC was always meant to be. And the ECA dragon will begin its final death-throes tomorrow (Tuesday), with the introduction of Labour's new industrial relations legislation. It's nice to see the Government, as ever, sticking to its promises - and doing what's right to boot.
Last week saw the release of the Budget Policy statement, which was overall a fairly dry document. It did cover the plan to secure the future of New Zealand Superannuation, something the Government will be remembered for for a very long time. It also pledged another $5.9b of spending over three years, while retaining budget surpluses. While there are clear areas of social need which simply aren't going to be met within that budget outline, it appears to be generous enough to fulfill Labour's pledge card promises, and make some good movement on other areas which require urgent attention. The regional development policies the Alliance leader is implementing are a vital step forward - the sooner the regions start moving again, the more jobs there'll be, = more tax revenue = more social spending on all those critical areas.
Look out tomorrow for the new IR law to be introduced, and the Prime Minister's triumphant return from Chile later in the week.
Web Site of the Week:
Me First - Where Right is Always right! - Sorry, I don't know what the address is, and I'm presently not in a situation in which I can try to find it. But ask around, beat people senseless, and generally go out of your way to find this site. It is the most hilarious piss-take of the right that I have ever seen.
Till the Next Time Jordan's too hungover to do this; Michael Wood.
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