By Lenore Tardif
MELBOURNE — Australian Liberals and the New Right have looked to New Zealand, and the economic policies of both National and Labour governments, as a possible model for what they would like to do here. But the New Zealand experience may also hold some useful examples and encouragement for the left.
Matt McCarten, president of the New Zealand NewLabour Party, told the July 4-6 Resistance conference here of the party's growth and of its success in forging an Alliance with greens, Maoris and other forces. The process was encouraging proof that socialists and progressives can have a major political impact.
"Real class war" has become quite open in New Zealand, said McCarten. Privatisation is a process of enriching a few at the expense of the majority. "All strategic resources have been sold. The government has no control of the economy. Transport, shipping, financial, communication and primary industries have been sold at losses."
Far from opposing the National government's privatisations, the Labour Party last month voted with the Nationals to block a private member's bill introduced by the NewLabour Party against the selling of
the government electric corporation.
The New Zealand National government's Employment Contracts Act, which became law in May 1991, removed legal recognition from unions. The act allows employers alone to determine whether negotiations are to be handled collectively or with each individual, isolated worker.
"The ruling class has formalised its power through the Employment Contracts Act and massive privatisation", McCarten explained. "The worker has no power, no dole for six months if in disagreement with a contract set up by the employer, and is represented by unions to whom any deal is better than no deal."
McCarten described a leaked Treasury document which predicted that the New Zealand economy would take at least 12 years to come good. In effect, it accepted wiping out a whole generation of youth.
"It is crisis time in New Zealand", confirmed McCarten. Policies such as user pay health and education, GST at 12.5% and likely to rise to 15%, and reduction of income tax on the rich have created "a real sense of betrayal as workers watch the Labour Party support these moves".
Whenever it has stood against the Labour Party in local or regional elections, the NLP has been successful. Labour has decided not to stand in upcoming local elections. The NLP's membership is now larger than that of the Labour Party.
"The New Labour Party is now a permanent fixture, with the objective the alternative to the Nationals." The formation of the Alliance in December broadens and unites the forces sharing this objective. "The New Labour Party brought 4500 people into the Alliance within four weeks of its formation."
In addition to the Greens, "who voted 80% to join despite huge pressure not to do so", and the Maori party Mana Motuhake, the Alliance includes the Democrats and the Liberal Party, the last formed by two MPs who broke away from the Nationals. With NewLabour Party MP Jim Anderton, this gives the Alliance three members of Parliament.
The NLP and the Alliance insist on strict accountability of elected members to Alliance policy. There is no "conscience vote" on any question.
According to McCarten, Alliance supporters are youth, greens, the poor, unemployed, pensioners, low paid workers and old people. Over the past few weeks, the Alliance has attracted 2000 campaign workers and collected over $200,000, primarily from small contributions. McCarten sees this enthusiasm as confirmation that those suffering from the present government's policies want the Alliance to work for them.
The Alliance will contest seats in major centres during local and regional government elections in October on a platform that all assets must be held and controlled by the community.
"The National Party have legislated that all regional assets must be sold", explained McCarten. "We will not sell. When we win these local elections on this platform, it will be very embarrassing for the Nationals, who will then have to move against us in an election year."
The Alliance platform will include regional planning for employment and a return to democracy in the control of public utilities.
"The campaign will be jobs, ownership and democracy", McCarten said.
With the Labour Party not standing, the contest will be between the Alliance and the Nationals. This should add to the legitimacy of the Alliance as the clear political alternative to the conservatives in next year's general election.