Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Workers Charter meeting in New Zealand

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Earlier this month 50 leftists in NZ (from Unite, SWO (ISO in NZ), ex-Alliance, individual leftists etc) met to establish a Workers Charter movement as a possible stepping stone towards a new workers’ party in NZ. There is a desperate need for a new workers party in NZ. The Labour Party/Green coalition, while making progressive noise on secondary questions, are a firm follower of economic rationalism and also supported the imperialist intervention in Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly the Greens can expect to be wiped out at the upcoming national NZ election (if they get less than 5% of the vote as seems likely they lose their parliamentary status). Sections of workers and the progressive middle class voted for them expecting a progressive party, but got instead a junior coalition partner in a neo-liberal government.

Only the conjunctural upturn in the NZ economy and the unpopularity of the National Party opposition could possibly save the Helen Clarke Labour Government.

Grant Morgan correctly pointed out at the Workers Charter conference that: “While the (new) Maori Party is a mass break from Labour, it will attract only a section of workers. After the elections, arguments will break out about whether the Maori Party should promote grassroots liberation or be a repectable opposition within capitalism”.

The growing understanding that neither the Greens or Maori Party or the rump of the Alliance (which stemmed from a leftwing split from Labour 15 years ago) are avenues for resistance to capital is a basis for the Workers Charter movement. Allied to that is a certain revival of class struggle in NZ, witnessed by the transport workers strike.

SP supports any genuine attempt to create a new workers’ party in NZ and argues for campaigning, socialist policies for any new party. The Alliance, the SSP and many other powerful formations have floundered on the rocks by opportunistic drifts away from a clear socialist alternative.

Unfortunately there are already signs of this problem in the earliest stages of the Workers Charter movement. The SWO are following the lead of their sister party in the UK, SWP, by helping to create a broad alliance of the lowest common demoninator. Respect in the UK is way to the right of the previous SWP-dominated formation, Socialist Alliance – now officially closed down.
Grant Morgan only mentioned socialism once in his talk and that was to say: “For the Charter itself, we should apply the KISS principal – Keep It Short, Socialists”. He argued for a 5 or 6 point minimum programme.

Obviously a new workers’ party in its earliest stages shouldn’t be bogged down in debates over a massive programme – however as it develops it will need a full programme on international, economic and all social and industrial issues. However, for a self-proclaimed Workers Charter to be reduced to such a minimum set of demands invites all sorts of opportunism in the future.

The other main group in the Charter process are the Unite leaders Mike Treen and Matt McCarten. These two people played a key role in the Alliance party in the 1990s, which after early high opinion poll ratings, collapsed after taking control of Auckland Council and not fundamentally breaking with neo-liberalism and after the entry of its parliamentary wing into a coalition government with Labour on the national arena.

SP (with the experience of having the only elected socialist in Australia), seeks to open a dialogue with the Workers? Charter forces to exchange ideas and experiences.


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