Friday, July 07, 2006

Happy birthday Labour

Ninety years ago today, in the darkest days of the Great War, left-wing leaders gathered at a "Unity Conference" in Wellington to plan how best to work together to achieve their common goals and advance the interests of New Zealand's working class. From that meeting, the New Zealand Labour Party was born.

I'm not a Labour person, but I think this is worth celebrating all the same. Labour wasn't the first left-wing party on the New Zealand political scene (a glance at its wikipedia page shows it had a complicated political genealogy), and it wasn't even the first to elect a left-wing or outright socialist candidate (the Liberal Party takes that honour, back when it was a vehicle for every vaguely progressive voice in the country). But for 90 years it has been, in fits and starts, the core vehicle for social progress in this country. And while it may not be able to make much progress today, crippled as it is by its reliance on outright reactionaries and fundamentalists, we can still celebrate its successes of the past. Labour established and entrenched the social democratic institutions that underpin our society and still form the core of the left-wing vision in New Zealand: the welfare state, free health care, and ACC. They passed the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, which gave heart to the Maori renaissance and began the long process of healing our history. And even in their darkest days in the 80's, when they abandoned their roots, they still gave us homosexual law reform, the abolition of the death penalty, the Bill of Rights Act, an independent foreign policy and the nuclear free legislation. These things are all worth celebrating, and we should remember that it was Labour that did it for us (while of course demanding that they do more).

Labour has come a long way in the last ninety years. Its early leaders - Holland, Webb, Fraser, Semple, and Savage - were outright radicals, active in the "Red Feds", and a fair number of them had spent time in jail for sedition or similar actions. Nowdays, its leadership is more sedate. Rather than seeking revolution through the ballot box, their mantra is slow and steady progress. But they are still a progressive force, and will be the core of any future progressive government in New Zealand; we just have to make sure they have coalition partners that prod them along rather than trying to slow them down even further.


One of the major difficulties I have with Labour is my extreme disappointment that they seem to now be a "mature" party, which has out grown it's radical youth.

Some days I feel Labour's attitude, particularly to others on the left, is all too easily summed up by that quote:
"If you are not a socialist at twenty you don’t have a heart. If you are still a socialist at thirty you don’t have a brain”, with many Labour people acting as if they are about 80.

Posted by Span : 7/07/2006 03:43:00 PM

Labour is anything but progressive these days. It has done far more to help capitalism survive than any other party in the last 30 years.

Posted by Asher : 7/07/2006 04:07:00 PM

Labour was never about defeating capitalism, only curbing some of its grossest effects. Historically, I think Labour was outstandingly effective, in the face of vicious reaction from the Right. However, it passed into moral bankruptcy after 1984 and has yet to emerge. That is its task for the next couple of decades.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/07/2006 04:53:00 PM

It is inaccurate to say Labour delivered Homosexual Law Reform, while most of the MPs supporting it were Labour, the Maori Labour MPs and a fairly noisy small cabal of others (Geoff Braybrooke was the leader of it) were vehemently against it. A handful of Nats supported it, George Gair being the decider.

Fran Wilde deserves the glory, but it was never party policy.

Posted by Libertyscott : 7/07/2006 08:35:00 PM

While we're on birthdays, Happy Birthday to the US of A also as of July 4.

Posted by Gooner : 7/07/2006 08:38:00 PM

Gair and others in other parties that supported Homosexual Law Reform deserve credit no doubt but Labour did lead this debate with Wilde at the very front. To say otherwise is revisionist.

I'm not as disappointed with Labour as others here are and share your view they remain the principle political vehicle for progressive issues and social justice in NZ.

Posted by backin15 : 7/07/2006 11:47:00 PM

A "progressive force" that takes no action on climate change and does less than undoing the damage done by National governments when in power?

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 7/09/2006 11:21:00 AM

CMT: you can't make much progress if you're hamstrung by United Future and NZ First.

This term is basically a write-off. It's still better for Labour to be in power, if only because it means that the unions will have two more years to fight for higher wages under a more accomodating IR framework than National would give them. But there's not a lot they can do outside the minimum wage rise and entrenching Working For Families. The problem is that this is not going to convince people to come out and vote for them at the next election (though it might convince lefties within Labour to vote for the Greens and real progress)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 7/09/2006 01:55:00 PM

I view the current Labour party as being a bit like the company Enron who used imaginative accounting and media manipulation to effectively cover up appalling mismanagement. Eventually however, the company collapsed under its own weight.
I suspect labour is reaching that point now, although very few seem to have realised it.
When I look at their track record, I see they are spending an extra $16Bil on the state service. They have added 37,000 new state sector employees. Yet the end result is that we have a health system where the waiting list has doubled (up from 100K under National to 180K under Labour), an education system where some reports indicate up to 40% of kids coming out cannot read or right properly, we don't have a defence force anymore, the Police are ineffective and the 111 system nearly collapsed.
Treasure has warned this government on numerous occasions that in spite of the astronomical increase in government spending there is no apparent increase in productivity. I just can't feel positive about a part when after increasing government spending by 40% we are still left with the mess above.
In my view, they are arguably the worst, most incompetent government NZ has ever had. And like Enron, the cracks are starting show and the bandaids on cancers are finally coming to light.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/10/2006 02:33:00 PM