Our work and welfare programme
The content of our Work and Welfare Programme was informed by attendees of two public hui in Auckland and Wellington in November 2018, as well as anti-poverty and labour organisers. This is the second of six sections analysing the state of class warfare in Aotearoa, and laying out a plan for building a movement for liberation and socialism.
Please see our section on Housing here.
- “Capitalist work practices are alien to Aotearoa, and through indigenous work practices we can give mana to the whenua.”
Māori have been working the land for over seven hundred years, and during that time gradually developed sustainable work practices that have been erased through colonialism. Any discussion of work and welfare in Aotearoa begins with an earnest investigation of the practices of tangata whenua.
- “Everyone should have access to all that labour creates, regardless of work status.”
While it is true that workers are entitled to all that we create, the same is true of those who can’t work, or those who are made superfluous. The labour of many is necessary to construct a better world, but our ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of time spent on work while ensuring the prosperity of all.
- “Automation should serve our needs, not their profits.”
No worker should live in fear of losing their job through automation or other aspects of the cyclical crises of capitalism. All automation under socialism is conducted to serve the people.
- “Our liberation requires the liberation of workers globally.”
Any gains of socialism are not just for people in Aotearoa, and are ultimately meaningless without sharing those gains everywhere. If higher standards of living are achieved here, but rely on the subjugation of other nations’ workers through imperialism, then that is no victory for us. Only though opposing imperialism and organising across nations can we emancipate all workers.
- “Our labour should not be directed towards endless economic growth.”
Capitalism is predicated on the idea that markets can grow indefinitely, and there is always a new resource or people to exploit. Economic growth for its own sake must end, as growth and productivity are meaningless to socialism wherever they become disconnected from human need.
- “Our workplaces should be democratic.”
Each workplace is its own petty kingdom under capitalism, with each boss, no matter how benevolent, in total control of their worker’s lives. No society can proclaim to be democratic while this dictatorship exists, and so socialists must always strive for a workplace where workers determine their own fates.
- “All work that meets human need should be recognised.”
Across the world, women toil without wages, without recognition and without reprieve in households to maintain and reproduce labour. These reproductive labourers form one half of the system which allows capitalism to exploit new workers and regenerate the old each day. Even when women are allowed to leave the home and enter the waged workforce, they are forced into underpaid industries, including healthcare and hospitality roles, as a lower stratum of workers. All of this work is valuable to society on a scale equal or greater than jobs traditionally held by men, and our economic system should reflect this.
- “Wherever there is a human need, there is work.”
It is utterly illogical that our society should have an unemployed army of labourers, perfectly willing to work but punished for a lack of accessible jobs. Capitalists require this surplus labour force to fill gaps in the economy, yet workers without jobs are lied to and told they are worthless. In truth, there are as many jobs as there are needs, but only those which serve capitalist interests are deemed worthy of paying a wage. Unemployment is impossible under a socialist society which recognises that the number of workers can rise and fall in proportion to human need rather than profit motives.
The state of work and welfare in Aotearoa.
Note: As socialists our positions on labour and production are extremely important to our proposed political path, and we require solid definitions of all aspects of the economic system. Since so much theory could be written on the subject we have included several appendices that can be found at the end of this section.
Capitalism was brought to Aotearoa in the boats of dozens of explorers, privateers, gun-runners and whalers who settled here, alternately displacing or integrating into established Māori communities, and bringing with them countless diseases that would cause the first series of mass deaths among Māori.
With these frontier men came hundreds of trade muskets; poorly-made firearms that were given in return for the food and hospitality of their Māori hosts. These guns, along with new potato farming methods, and European innovations like slavery and plantation agriculture, caused a technological revolution of greater speed and ferocity than Europe’s bronze-age collapse, migration period and industrial revolution all rolled into one. This massive upheaval in Te Ao Māori, combined with the growing communities of Europeans with their existing developed capitalist society, signalled the beginnings of capitalism in Aotearoa (see Appendix III).
In the century and a half since, capitalism has transformed Aotearoa from a land of great abundance with some of the most egalitarian communities in Polynesia, into one where all of our natural needs are hypothetically met, only to be replaced by needs that have been socially created. We now have the ability to provide even more for each person in Aotearoa, and yet the limitations imposed by markets prevent us from legally providing each person with what they need.
In recent decades, the contradictions in capitalism have become more pronounced than at any time since the Great Depression. In the 1980s, the fourth New Zealand Labour government brought in countless neoliberal reforms in the same vein as those occurring in the US under Reagan and the UK under Thatcher. This was done with the ostensible goal of ending the deficit crisis of the Muldoon government, but in most cases the doctrine of severe austerity, denial of welfare, and minimal spending has remained. Even the global economic crashes in 1987 (‘Black Tuesday’) and 2008 caused no change of policy, instead causing the tightening of austerity and restrictions on worker’s rights.
The resentment and alienation that this particularly unfettered form of capitalism breeds has led to corresponding fascist murmurs. Right-wing parties including ACT, the National Party, and New Zealand First, are leaning more and more into a fascistic support-base, dogwhistling to the alt-right movement. NZ Labour and the Green Party are deeply opportunistic, prone to compromising with the Right, and not up to the task of pulling the pendulum left.
Now as we write in 2019, we are experiencing a resurgence in the workers’ movement, spurred on by a large number of strikes in both public and private sectors. Union membership is up, but is still dismal compared to earlier figures. This bizarre situation has one solution – a revitalised relationship between the socialist and workers’ movements in Aotearoa, so that we may meaningfully address the widening inequality and social collapse we are experiencing.
This programme section details the means by which we hope to contribute to this workers’ movement. We will also talk about the democratic unions, workplaces, and communities needed to bring this about, and the endless cycle of capitalist crisis that necessitates a new workers’ movement.
All of our proposed interventions necessitate massively strengthened unions.
In calling for a renewed economic struggle on every level of society, it is important to note that we exist in a period of severe retreat across the globe, one which is only recently showing signs of rebirth. Union membership plummeted after the imposition of neoliberal economic reforms through the 1980s that were followed by the catastrophic 1991 Employment Contract Act which ended the practice of opt-out unionisation. Union density, which was comparatively healthy at 70% prior to the act, has now plummeted to around 15-20% today. While notable exceptions to the rule exist, especially the large nursing and teaching unions, most unions in Aotearoa have followed the same course as the rest of the capitalist world; a rapid decline into organisations that are incapable of fighting for much more than regular pay raises to account for inflation or cost-of-living increases without actually increasing the buying-power of workers. In real terms, wages have not increased for three to four decades, and this is largely the result of capital’s successful assault on the union movement.
We are not, however, calling for a simple return to how unions might have looked half a century ago. Even when they were powerful enough to fight for meaningful pay rises and worker safety legislation, the unions of yesteryear were not immune to Pākehā chauvinism, and sexist, homophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Despite being at the forefront of many progressive fights, most unions in the period of compulsory unionism existed to provide benefits to a specific strata of workers, to the exclusion of colonised, indigenous, and conquered peoples globally1.
What we require for a reinvigorated union movement in Aotearoa is not an attempt to reclaim a lost social democracy of the past, but a movement for all workers that looks towards the future and has the density and power to back the will of its members.
Strengthening unions from the outside will require considerable time and effort, and will take the form of simultaneous attempts to supplement existing unions and build up other working class organisations. We have to be careful about this process, as even the largest socialist organisations can find themselves totally subsumed by the day-to-day work of union organising, incapable of broad-spectrum organising outside of the economic sphere. Efforts to recruit for and organise with unions have to be carefully balanced with other activities and analysis, otherwise we could find ourselves becoming perfunctory or compromised, and slide into the all too common role of controlled opposition.
We must work to repeal all Anti-Union legislation.
A necessary step in any such programme would be campaigns to repeal specific anti-union legislation such as Section 81 of the Employment Relations Act, which gives an incredibly broad definition of strike action that includes practically any deviation from a normal workday, such as go-slows, black bans on persons or products, work-to-rules (fulfilling the bare minimum stipulated in a contract), reducing normal output and refusing to do overtime. In the past, even media statements from workers that were seen to have harmed their employers’ profits have been considered strikes. While this doesn’t mean these actions are illegal, the effect of this definition is a situation in which workers’ freedoms are severely limited, and nearly any action they may take, spontaneous or otherwise, can be punished with severe fines or by an employer lockout2.
In addition, reason for strikes must always be given, and only 2 reasons are deemed legitimate: a breakdown in collective bargaining and immediate health and safety concerns. A vast number of injustices and violations of employee rights exist as legitimate motives for a strike, but which are deemed illegal under this legislation. In particular, sympathy strikes, strikes for political purposes, such as human rights in other countries, and general strikes (perhaps the greatest weapon of the working class) are all cited as examples of unlawful strike action
Section 82 also gives employers an equal right to undertake lock-outs in order to compel a striking workforce to accept a particular collective bargaining agreement. This results in the shameful practice of capitalists locking out workers and denying them wages, despite the clear difference in power dynamics between harming an employers’ bottom line and harming a workers’ ability to provide food for their whānau. Lock-outs can also be applied to specific workers, in order to break up strikes by dividing the workforce. Scab labour is also effectively legalised provided the scab was already an employee prior to the strike. Scab labour can also be brought in from outside provided the employer can cite “safety concerns.”
Such legislation is a long-term barrier for any workers’ movement capable of providing a real threat to the interests of the capitalists. In particular, laws against solidarity strikes and general strikes deny worker’s their most powerful weapons and only real means of affecting systemic change3.
Unions must become political forums
It has become common-sense in some unions that unions exist primarily to deliver gains to their members, and that any additional political agendas run counter to the purpose of their union and risk alienating their membership. This logic of avoiding risks out of fear of losing our grasp on what few unionised workers remain is based on a flawed understanding of what working people respond to.
Workers are not a homogenous mass of people who care only about their working conditions and income. Workers are fundamentally more varied and diverse in their interests than other classes, as it is in the interests of capital to stratify the working class into subsections with competing interests. Workers are divided in terms of gender, politics, race, income and other means.
While some organisations have sought to either ignore these divisions, or worse still, adopt reactionary rhetoric in an attempt to prevent new divisions from occurring, we recognise that each new division is a response to current material circumstances imposed by capital, and are just as real as our unifying class interest – liberation. Only through being responsive and adaptive to current conditions can we raise awareness of unifying class interests as well as specific liberatory interests.
Unions which navigate this problem by avoiding making political statements outside of the realm of parliamentary politics, out of fear of alienating their base, instead make the mistake of failing to build a base.
Unions in Aotearoa weren’t always like this, and in fact intervened in several historical struggles out of a sense of solidarity4. For example, the Federation of Labour (FoL) acted against the Vietnam War and played a vital role in persuading the Labour Party to take a stronger stance on opposing the war and New Zealand’s involvement in it. In 1976, the FoL imposed a five-week ban on handling cargo to and from South Africa following the Soweto Uprising, just one of many examples of the unappreciated role of unions in the global anti-apartheid movement. In 1978, when Māori land protectors were evicted from Bastion Point, workers in the country’s meat plants walked off the job in protest5.
Only by allying themselves with specific liberatory interests can unions excite workers and convince them that unions stand in unconditional solidarity with them, rather than a purely economic solidarity that exists only to ensure their continued existence.
Unions have also historically been structured along craft/professional lines rather than industrial lines, which has often provided a barrier to working class unity. By unionising workers on craft lines, the union maintains rather than challenges the division of labour within the working-class, contributing to workers identifying with their profession rather than the rest of the class. This allows capitalists to more easily play off different professions of workers during strikes and industrial disputes, where one profession in a workplace goes on strike while the other profession does not. One recent example of this was the difficulties healthcare workers experienced in cooperating with each other during strikes over the past couple of years, in part due to the proliferation of different unions. Separating unions along professional rather than industrial lines was also the main tactic used to crush the largest union movement in Aotearoa’s history, when in 1924 the Alliance of Labour was split up by the First Labour Government who succeeded in forcing the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants to leave the AoL (an inter-industry association) and form the Railway Tradesmen’s Association (a craft-specific association), a split which led to the Alliance’s demise.
By re-orienting unions that have been based on specific professional interests towards solidarity with their respective industries and workplaces, we can work towards a more genuine and viable form of worker solidarity.
Democratic workplaces begin with democratic unions.
While we aim to be of service to any union in need of assistance with recruitment, picket enforcement and strike organising, our allegiance must be to the working members of the union rather than union officials or hierarchies. Across the capitalist world, many union administrations have become professionalised and corporatised in order to become bodies that manage the relationship between workers and capitalists, rather than organisations of the working class which exist to fight for our interests6 7. This is no accident. Bosses and states know that without political leadership, the economic leadership of the unions can be easily misdirected or constrained into perfunctory roles that exist to moderate only the worst excesses of capitalists. Our role should not be to help prop up any such organisation.
The good news is, the seeds of better unions exist even in the most compromised and corporatised unions around today. The day-to-day economic struggles of workers generates brilliant organisers, agitators and thinkers, such as the crucial but often unacknowledged work of thousands of shop-floor delegates across Aotearoa. Capitalism’s regular injustices provide us with a steady stream of such militants, who through their connections with other workers are able to come to some, if not all, of the correct political conclusions. Attempts to democratise unions via organising the rank and file have already begun in Aotearoa, such the Health Sector Workers’ Network operating within the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation, and should be supported8.
It is through organising with union members directly, rather than connecting with them only through their management, that unions can be pushed in a more radical direction. Combined with more democratic methods of selecting union officials, we could begin to see unions that are worthy of their members, rather than organisations that stifle and constrain them in places. Through open democratic discussion of leadership we can even make inroads into fighting against reactionary misogynist or xenophobic attitudes that still prevail over some sectors of the union movement, and create unions that are safer for all workers.
Such democratic unions are a necessary requirement for any actions against businesses and the state broader than just those for minor wage adjustments. Once the courage of the most organised and militant workers is reflected in the union movement as a whole, we might see solidarity strikes, strikes in response to political struggles, or even strikes as a tactic for revolutionary agitation begin to emerge.
Where workplaces cannot be legally unionised, informal workers’ associations are necessary.
The neoliberal period of the last 3-4 decades has provided ample opportunities for lawmakers to punish unions and prevent a return to the levels of unionisation required for meaningful worker’s economic power. The National Government’s Employment Contracts Act of 1991 was a fullscale attack on union access and coverage, and was never fully repealed by the following Labour Government, which replaced it with the Employment Relations Act 2000. Specific sections of the working class are much more affected by these laws than others. The ‘Hobbit Law’ imposed for the sake of Peter Jackson and Warner Bros’ film empire, for example, has had flow-on effects that have greatly hampered the unionisation of the entire screen industry, from film to video-gaming.
Although harmful to the movement as a whole, the need to organise outside of the law is not new. Throughout the early twentieth century, certain union activities were de-facto illegal as a result of the close collaboration between the state and business. Strikes in this period were often illegal, and these were often broken up with great violence, sometimes with military or paramilitary assistance. In response to harsh conditions, unions were forced into clandestine modes of organising. One thing that is often forgotten, however, is that organisations using essentially illegal organising practices were still effective at unionising new workplaces. To take a fairly recent example, the New Zealand Prostitute’s Collective (prior to the Prostitution Reform Act 2003) was required to organise using illegal or clandestine methods that were ultimately effective at raising awareness and imposing the political power of sex workers under very difficult circumstances.
A clear path for organising sectors that traditional unions can’t becomes apparent when we consider that socialist organisations not formally linked to any unions are not subject to the same legislation or consequences that prevent unions from more bold activities. We are in a position to be able to hand out recruitment materials to workplaces where union organisers aren’t welcome, and in instances where no union can operate, we are able to make unofficial solidarity organisations.
There are industries which are particularly suited to this practice. Legal but severely unregulated workplaces such as fishery workers, day-labourers, migrant fruitpickers, and even hospitality workers are often not able to organise through conventional means due to the precarity of their industry as a whole, but could benefit from unofficial associations that can organise walk-outs and informative materials. Screen workers are completely prevented from joining official unions, but could clandestinely be organised as associations with the aim of improving conditions and wages through strength of numbers.
Where strikes cannot take place legally, illegal strikes become necessary.
Strikes which are undertaken without notice, or without the official approval of union leadership, are known as “Wildcat strikes.” The Employment Contracts Act 1991, and its replacement the Employment Relations Act 2000, impose a series of severe penalties for unionists who undertake such actions, as well as for strikes in solidarity with other industries, or strikes in support of land rights campaigning and environmental actions (“green bans”). However, potential loopholes exist, and many of these actions are still undertaken or able to be undertaken by courageous union members.
The strength of a wildcat strike is in its unpredictability and its ability to circumvent the normal bureaucratic inertia of an employment dispute process. Bosses know this, and so such actions are heavily repressed as part of a broader trend towards defanging union movements. Unionists are required to give “sufficient” notice before a strike, but this is open to interpretation and should be put to the test. It is also possible to give notice for a long period of potential actions, but only strike on certain days, thereby keeping employers on their toes and preventing them from using the normal strike-breaking methods. Already, unions such as FIRST, Unite, and even the PSA are utilising these tactics.
We recognise though that movements aren’t built just through utilising legal technicalities, and that we also need to openly challenge unjust laws. Socialist organisations that exist outside of unions are necessary for this fight, as if we operate correctly we can give plausible deniability to unionists and prevent them from being incapacitated by fines. Using wildcat tactics, whether this is with the implied approval of leadership or not, will likely be a key element in breaking the deadlock imposed by repressive labour laws and making solidarity strikes and green-bans a legal possibility.
These are not ideas that must be brought in by socialists from the outside – unionists with a social conscience already do most of these things. At the land rights struggle in Ihumātao, unionists acting outside official channels effectively won over traffic management, truck drivers and security workers on the spot, just as unionists were able to do at Bastion Point a generation before. Making connections between these individuals who resist bureaucratising tendencies is important when some union leaders are sometimes more involved in enforcing current labour laws than they are in trying to repeal them.
Momentum can only be built through victories.
We have seen in the past that momentum can only be built from small-scale struggles that increase in ambition with each passing victory. We shouldn’t be afraid of starting small campaigns wherever the overall level of union activity is low, especially in places that are too marginalised or remote to be the focus of major unions. As well as being an active union member in their own workplace, whether or not it is a well organised site, each member of Organise Aotearoa should take a keen interest in supporting workers in other workplaces they are close to. The work of building unions in our own workplaces and building connections between workers close to us should be a priority above other prematurely ambitious projects. The worker’s movement in Aotearoa is inundated with would-be leaders but is primarily lacking in the level of working class self-organisation necessary to push for major objectives.
As in all western nations, our theory is vastly more advanced, or at least more convoluted, than our practice, and our primary goal should be to bridge that gap.
Economic struggles only succeed through coordination with Political and Social struggles.
Purely economic (or “economist”) struggles are doomed to failure, or to redirection into ineffective or liberal strategies. This is to say that a strategy for worker’s rights that is exclusively focused on workplace reforms can never bring about systemic change, as that would require a political and social element in order to be successful.
However under Neoliberalism, all forms of political struggle have become atomised, or separated from one another. Unions are denied the right to strike in solidarity with political struggles, political parties are incapable of improving the role of unions, and social activism has been systematically stigmatised and seen as the realm of the irrelevant, ostracised, or dispossessed elements of society.
This has lead to a situation where we aren’t only in danger of the economic struggle being alienated from the social and political, we’re in danger of all three being incapable of coordination amongst one-another. Part of this lies in the absence of any mass-based socialist organisations with an interest in broad-spectrum activism, but it is also reinforced through laws, social convention, and redirection into ineffective forms of politics and activism.
Overcoming this requires several things: a renewed mass-based socialist organisation, a re-politicisation of unions, an expansion of social activism into worker’s rights, and breaking the stranglehold of parliamentary politics over the union movement.
A programme of direct-action interventions supplements strike actions.
Hard pickets, where workers shut down sites by physically preventing the use of scab labour, are one form of direct-action that is already used by most unions in strikes. Unionists on the ground recognise that hard pickets are by far the most effective way to hurt the bottom-line of employers, and improve their bargaining position. However in Aotearoa, hard pickets are sometimes ineffective due to inexperience, police intervention, and lack of membership density.
Police are not allowed to simply break up a hard picket, but officers will often attempt to do just that, counting on members not knowing their rights9. We have found in past struggles that educating members vastly improves the chances of a picket succeeding on the crucial first day. On the other hand, members sometimes underestimate the rapidity, stubbornness and heavy-handed clumsiness of a Police response, thinking that designated Police-liaisons and negotiations are enough to keep the police from breaking up strikers. Only by matching the police for rapidity of response, strength of numbers, and sometimes stubbornness, can police be reliably countered.
In addition to hard pickets, a programme of direct-action interventions undertaken by groups outside of the union can improve the bargaining position of workers, and expand the possibilities of strike actions. Unions can’t always survive the media backlash and potential fines of undertaking a direct-action campaign of their own, but solidarity groups often can. Direct action in support of unions was once a major part of socialist organising, in particular during the United Federation of Labour and Alliance of Labour period of the last century (c. 1908-1924)10.
Beneficiaries Unions will help us fight for a benefit at the living wage and an end to sanctions.
In prior periods of class struggle and economic depression, unions for the unemployed or those on welfare have been instrumental at keeping unions strong, and class consciousness alive, during periods of high unemployment, despair, and self-interest driven by necessity. In the 1930s, Aotearoa was home to a thriving movement of unionised unemployed workers who organised themselves with the help of socialists, and developed methods of both surviving the tough times, and organising against the capitalist world order that created them. The National Unemployed Workers Movement (N.U.W.M) was created in 1931 in response to an unemployment rate of over 16% and a growing number of rural work camps for the unemployed where conditions were rapidly deteriorating. The N.U.W.M advocated for strikes, pickets, and direct action in response to these conditions, and successfully agitated against growing police violence at the time11.
Whereas a worker’s union fights an employer for increases in wages and workplace safety, an unemployed worker’s union fights against the capitalist state for increases to the benefit and public healthcare. While it doesn’t have the ability to collectively withhold labour, the greatest weapon of a worker’s union, there are other forms of collective action which an unemployed worker’s union can employ, as it is not bound to the same laws as unions, nor are its members able to be threatened by losing work.
The collective bargaining power of the unemployed worker’s union stems from a direct-action campaign aimed at disrupting the normal functioning of government. This can include disruption of government offices, demonstrations, sit-ins, and pickets. However, the greatest strength of an unemployed worker’s union is its ability to build links with the rest of the organised labour movement. These organisations must be encouraged to grow and develop into formidable fighting forces.
We must end the dehumanising, colonial, and punitive aspects of WINZ.
After a trial period in 2012, the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Act (2013), championed by the then-National-led government, scrapped several permanent benefits and replaced them with 3 main ones. Many beneficiaries found themselves cut off from their usual disability support services, and forced onto unemployment benefits. The Act included many measures against “welfare dependency” as well as a renewed focus on pushing people into work12. This happened at the same time as measures intended to push people away from WINZ offices, and into part-time casual work and the IRD13. This act was closely followed by the Social Security (Fraud Measures and Debt Recovery) Amendment Act (2014), which added to the new, work-focused, and deeply punitive atmosphere of WINZ by conflating welfare dependency with fraud, and making beneficiaries pay for administrative errors out of their own pocket.
These measures are just the most recent in a long line of efforts to punish workers for a lack of jobs, or their disabilities, or childcare requirements. Since the 1980s, successive governments have increasingly penalised anyone for making use of WINZ services, and have considered welfare to be an easy target for austerity, given the bipartisan nature of its dismantlement. Misogyny was also key in selling these policies, as the constructed image of “welfare queens,” and irresponsible single-mums was used to justify extensive punitive and anti-fraud policies. Some of these policies, in-turn, took a misogynistic turn, such as financial consequences for being unable to identify a father, or the extremely harsh potential penalties for entering into a relationship, defined as a mere two weeks of partnership.
On its surface, Work and Income NZ, or WINZ, is meant to provide temporary relief for the unemployed in their search for new work, assist students in their studies, and provide additional assistance to disabled people and the elderly. However, anyone who has spent time in a WINZ office knows there is an additional purpose: punishment.
Various capitalist states have learnt to impose welfare systems upon the reserve army of labour which are by their nature unpleasant, invasive, or degrading for their clients. This is designed to minimise the degree of freedom workers have over the work they take, as desperate people will take any job. If unemployed workers have too much freedom over their working conditions, the reserve army of labour doesn’t fulfil its social function of being able to fill any gap in the labour market.
In addition to this, governments in the neoliberal era are constantly under pressure to cut basic services or privatise them in order to keep up with the debt, trade deal restrictions, and diplomatic obligations imposed by the neoliberal global system. States are increasingly pressured into signing off their right to privatise services, and so there is no means by which this trend can be reversed. The result is rapidly shrinking budgets for welfare globally, and the New Zealand state is no exception. In our lifetimes, these budgets will be slashed again and again, in order to make room for an increasingly spartan state comprised solely of the executive, military and police. We need to fight to retain, deepen, and expand the current system of social welfare, without giving up our vision of its eventual obsolescence.
We should reject regressive, perfunctory or temporary solutions to crises.
Capitalism is locked in an eternal death spiral of crisis, from its beginning until its end. The fact that these crises have never been enough to break the hegemony of global capital is the result of capitalism’s extraordinary ability to create temporary solutions to crisis which are able to delay, but never completely halt, the next crisis.
The mechanism by which crises constantly occur is explained by Karl Marx. In short, periods of rapid capitalist growth, in which the working classes produce huge surplus values for the capitalist class, allow the capitalist class to invest large sums into machinery which assists production. This machinery takes the place of real workers (automation) and so the actual amount of work being put into the end product is reduced. This reduction in the wages being paid to workers then allows even more profit to be created, drawing more and more investment. Paradoxically, this greater efficiency with which the capitalist class can exploit us actually leads to reduced profits. This is because the actual human labour (organic composition of capital) decreases, and more and more machinery (otherwise known as “dead labour” or inorganic capital) of increasing complexity and cost is required to take its place. Overall, this produces a tendency for the rate of profit to fall.
When investors see that there is less return on their investment, they begin to pull their investments away from the industry in the midst of this production crisis, and put it into other areas. This creates a collapse in the industry which leads to greater unemployment, and workers who are now too poor to buy consumer goods. This is a consumption crisis, a situation where the capitalists have too few consumers to buy their products.
Once there is both a crisis of production and consumption, capitalists are neither able to invest in new markets, nor offset this loss with increased consumer spending. When no industries are worth investing in, the capitalist responds by withdrawing all investments. The result is a market crash, as we saw in 2008.
However market crashes aren’t so bad for all capitalists, often they present opportunities to the biggest capitalists where they can buy out their competitors, or hoard their wealth until the crisis is over. They are also able to employ thousands of newly unemployed workers at vastly reduced rates thanks to the rapidly expanding labour market.
As the crash ends, the number of human workers in productive industries rises. Bankrupt companies are written off or bought out by larger ones, who reopen workplaces. Workers go back to their jobs, albeit for reduced wages, and they are now able to resume consumer spending. Fictional capital created through speculation is also written off, further increasing the value of real investment in production.
Finally the cycle starts over, the capitalists begin replacing their new workers with machines, and the mistakes of the past are forgotten.
Of course this cycle isn’t always as clear-cut as that. Most of the time, capitalist states intervene to delay parts of the cycle. Sometimes they increase welfare and spending (this is what is generally termed Keynesianism) in order to delay the consumption crisis, other times they compensate businesses for their lost capital (fictional or otherwise) through huge bailouts at the expense of their citizens. The result is that capitalist crisis isn’t a rule, it’s a tendency. We cannot say that New Zealand will experience crisis this week or next year, but we can say with utmost certainty that economic crisis will happen again, and for easily foreseeable reasons.
Because of the inevitability of crisis, we can’t afford to delude ourselves into thinking that we have somehow escaped the cycle, or that we can escape the cycle while still under the dictatorship of capital. Many socialists in history have thought that through good governance and timely interdictions by worker-influenced states, capitalist crisis can be tamed. We do not believe that any capitalist state can tame crisis, as it is an immutable symptom of capitalism.
Similarly we believe that most ‘solutions’ to crises are a distraction to the workers’ movement, and while they may allow for temporary increases in the quality of life of some workers (often at the expense of others), this is usually meant as a means of appeasing or pacifying movements which would otherwise seek to remove us from the cycle of crisis entirely. Examples of this include appeals to the postwar social democratic compromise between capital and labour initiated by the first Labour government, or similar overseas compromises such as the New Deal or Keynesianism.
We need to constantly analyse and find points of leverage over the capitalist system.
As Marx and Engels said, under the dictatorship of capital “all that is solid melts into air.” By this we mean that capitalism produces environments for us that are constantly changing, where all traditions are eroded, and new ones are created overnight. Our economic situation one day is never the same as the next, and for these reasons, socialists need to be constantly analysing the newest developments in capitalism in Aotearoa.
Our programme cannot account for all possible changes in the economy, or the social relations it creates. We can at this moment make the broadest predictions about the way capitalist futures will unfold, for example we can predict that capitalist crisis will continue to occur so long as there are no massive ruptures in the “base” of our society (the social relations whereby workers are exploited by capitalists). We can predict that the bourgeoisie will go to any and all ends in order to perpetuate itself and avoid the existential threats that come with a crisis. We can’t however, predict the exact ways that the bourgeoisie will seek to avert crisis, other than it will be a mix of stratification, austerity and welfare.
In order to fight the most recent trends and stay ahead of the looming crisis, we need to build workers institutions dedicated to educating ourselves and our comrades about capitalism, so that we can best understand the means by which we can defeat it.
We must fight against attempts to minimise or undermine worker’s victories.
Throughout our history, workers and unionists have fought for basic rights that have outlasted the ordinary cycles of crisis. While some reforms were never intended to last, others, such as worker safety legislation, weekends, right-to-strike laws and more, have survived thanks to the constant vigilance and militancy of workers’ movements.
For this reason we reject so-called “accelerationist” notions of deliberately allowing the existing institutions of the working class to be destroyed by neoliberalism and fascism. Workers do not spontaneously rise up in response to worsening conditions when those conditions are imposed on the bosses’ own terms and without the strident opposition of socialists and unionists. Capitalism’s eventual subsumption by crisis can never be accelerated by our own inaction and passivity, or worse, active support for our own destruction.
Wherever workers’ rights are under attack, we will fight back. Anything less would rightly be seen as a betrayal.
We will combine the economic, political, and social struggles into a revolutionary path.
While it is relatively easy to say what can be achieved by socialists under capitalism, and what could be achieved in a post-capitalist world, it is comparatively harder to say exactly how workers will come to power in a capitalist world. Past movements hold some clues, but ultimately the experience of socialism has to be tailored to suit the specific conditions in each nation. In Aotearoa, our revolution will never be a repeat of 1848, 1917, or 1959. Nor will it be fought by the same sorts of organisations, or charismatic leaders. Each new revolution produces new revolutionaries, and by attempting to replicate the past, rather than learning from or memorialising it, we will only ever come across as out-of-touch and irrelevant to the contemporary movement.
In short, we wish to provide a real, existential threat to the bourgeoisie in the long-term. Not a short spark of revolutionary anger to be snuffed out by police violence, nor a broad movement of workers that is ultimately compromised by placing too much faith in leadership or political candidates. Both “actionism” and “gradualism” have their flaws, but they constitute a false dichotomy and ultimately we need to combine them into tactics that are reactive to current conditions, and pre-empt neither state violence nor working class apathy. Where there is energy for substantive change we will seek it out, and where there is inertia and defeat we will seek alternative paths.
In the earliest stages, we would seek to build up working class institutions on the local scale – tenant unions, workers’ unions, mutual aid schemes, campaign groups and the like. We would add our energies to existing movements for positive change, while not shying away from organising our own movements. Mass action would be supplemented by the direct action of small groups, and vice versa – we see these as neither mutually exclusive nor separable from one another.
While some groups talk of mass movements as ethereal things that arise spontaneously, we understand that they are created by the often unrecognised work of hundreds of people. While it is true that they cannot form at the beck and call of small activist groups, it is also true that mass movements aren’t simply untethered beasts to be ridden atop of. They must be built from the ground up through harnessing the energy and momentum of one another. It isn’t enough to say that history will provide us with opportunities. We have to actively seek out opportunities to put forward a socialist position. If people see a group hijacking a movement they will reject it, but if they see one building it from the ground up, then for them it will have earnt the right to speak with the authority we socialists so often assume.
One tactic alone will never be enough to bring about a structural change in Aotearoa. We can’t march our way to revolution, nor can we blockade our way there. A programme solely constituted of strategies suited to a mass movement is of as little use as a programme that can only be carried out by a cell of dedicated activists. Sensing the moment with humility and respect, we wait for the appropriate time to put forward our ideas to large numbers of people, or retreat from the spotlight, as the case may be.
When working class institutions have been built up to a certain point, we would also put into place institutions for workers to govern themselves. This would begin with services outside the realm of what the capitalist state can provide for workers, such as transformative justice institutions to fill gaps in what our legal system oversees (see the Justice section), or alternatives to collapsing state services, such as mutual aid schemes for those kicked off the benefit. This would be a programme of the gradual delegitimization of the capitalist state through the creation of what is effectively a “government in exile” within itself. We could not hope to somehow totally fill all of the functions of the bourgeois state with all of its resources, but this would provide a degree of community assistance and survival skills in the context of overall economic or ecological crises. Precedents for these “dual power” systems can be found in the various “underground states” that arose near the end of the Second World War – governments of the people formed under incredibly harsh conditions, that managed to partially or fully liberate nations where the bourgeois powers could not. Workers’ dual power has also been implemented during the Russian, German and Spanish Revolutions and the Bienno Rosso14.
We must ensure workplace accessibility and the rights of disabled workers.
Disabled workers make up a large part of the reserve army of labour. They represent many of the lowest-waged workers in Aotearoa, and many are forced out of the workplace completely, without a stable benefit. As many as 90% of autistic workers are unemployed15 even though autism is not considered adequate grounds for a permanent disability benefit. Instead, with the exception of a small number of vision or mobility impaired people, most disabled workers in Aotearoa are expected to find work, despite their extremely low chances of finding any.
Disabled workers find themselves in a maze of conflicting expectations. They are told that self-worth must be derived from their productivity, and yet at the same time they are denied the possibility of meaningfully contributing to society. These contradictory expectations can only be resolved by a shift towards labour conditions that are constructed around abilities, and production for the sake of a wider community, rather than productive output for an employer.
There also exists a phenomenon of capitalist enterprises specifically set up to create “accessible” workplaces, so as to get access to cheap labour from desperate beneficiaries via Workbridge, as well as government subsidies for hiring disabled workers. Overseas this phenomenon has become even worse, with severely learning disabled people being used as sweatshop labour, even in the most developed nations16. Using charity as a cover for exploiting disabled workers is a practice that must be ended for good, and once again relies on the notion that self-worth must be derived from productivity for an employer. Total pay equity, and access to full workplace benefits, is the only way forward on this struggle.
We must democratise production, and provide for all.
For us to achieve control over the work that we engage in and over the products of our labour, we must end the class relations of Aotearoa, where there are workers who engage in labour for the capitalists, those who own and control the means of production. This class division will only end through the democratisation of workplaces.
Over the past 150 years of class struggle, our fellow workers of the world have demonstrated how to democratise workplaces during revolutionary periods. They have done this through seizing ownership and control of the means of production from the capitalist class. This seizure – expropriation – has occurred in different ways depending on the circumstances. In cases where capitalists flee their workplace once a revolution begins, our comrades have taken over the workplaces and establish democratic structures to continue production while also creating socialist relations. Where capitalists remain, fellow workers have engaged in strikes, sit-ins and other forms of non-violent and violent direct action to force capitalists to give up ownership and control of the workplace17.
In this revolutionary period, our fellow socialist political organisations have engaged in direct action alongside the rest of the working-class to ensure the capitalists’ defeat. In addition, they have participated in workers’ meetings and have used their theoretical analysis and political experience to discuss with their fellow workers about what should be done to continue the revolution domestically, spread it globally, and ensure that it results in a socialist society.
Wherever fellow workers have expropriated the means of production from the capitalist class, they have formed workers’ councils. While they have had different names and different structures depending on the revolution (be it communes, Soviets, factory committees, and so on), they have all shared common features. Workers decide what to produce, how to produce, and how to distribute products through directly democratic workers assemblies. In some cases, these assemblies have included not only the workers of that workplace but also service users, consumers, and the community. Given what has previously been said in this section of the programme, we support the latter to ensure the democratic control of production and distribution by the entirety of our class18.
To implement these decisions around production and distribution and to coordinate between different workplaces, our fellow workers in these assemblies have elected councils of delegates. These delegates are different from representatives in that they are given mandates to implement specific decisions. If these delegates fail to implement these mandates, they can be recalled from their position through a majority vote of the workers. Through electing delegates to delegate councils at the local, regional, national, continental and eventually global levels, we can engage in the democratic planning of production, distribution, investment and innovation to serve human needs rather than to make profits for a ruling class19. While we can to some degree predict the political mechanism by which economic decisions will be made democratically, the specific planning mechanisms these democratic bodies will use are dependent on the post-revolutionary material conditions. Various planning models exist which past movements have put into practice, such as “cybernetic” (or automated) planning systems, direct democratic planning systems, or various mixed systems20.
If workers around the world are able to join together and abolish the capitalist world system, the result will be a final stage of socialism, where there will be no states or classes, as the means of production will be owned in common under democratic control. In this system, production will be for use, and distribution will be according to need without using money or markets. The ultimate goal of socialism will be to ensure the free and full development of the capacities of everyone so that we may all satisfy our needs, wants and desires in harmony with the rest of the earth.212223 Though it will take an immense, unprecedented, effort to get there, this is our ultimate goal.
Appendix I: Class characteristics of Aotearoa.
Ia: The “déclassé” elements and “Industrial Reserve Army.”
We reject wholly the notion that there exists a “lumpenproletariat,” a term used by historical marxists to describe a parasitic class of people who have no class-consciousness, and exist by leeching off the working classes. These “lumpenproletarians” were, according to earlier writings of Marx and Engels;
“…Vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged convicts, runaway galley slaves, swindlers, charlatans, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, procurers, brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, rag-pickers, knife-grinders, tinkers, beggars; in short, the entirely undefined, disintegrating mass, thrown hither and yon…”
These classless elements were vestiges of the class-relations of Feudal societies, aligning with the lower parts of the ruling classes to disrupt or repress worker’s movements. Whether such a class existed in Aotearoa is beyond the scope of this Appendix, though some have identified this class with the strikebreakers brought in to quell the great strikes of 1913 and 1953: rural workers given a stick and an above-average payslip to beat up industrial workers. It is the unpredictability and ease with which such a class could be bought out that concerned earlier socialists, but it is this fear and hatred of the “lumpenproles” that has meant that much of the written material produced about them has an uncomfortable similarity to the ways current conservative writers describe the unemployed, disabled, and segregated parts of society. This is a similarity of form rather than content, as although we can’t fault the socialists of Aotearoa’s past for fighting with such mercenary strikebreakers, we should recognise the danger of using such rhetoric in current conditions.
It’s also true that there no longer exists a class of rural Pākehā day-labourers willing to come down to the towns to beat up unionists for a sack of money. Marx was correct when he described such people as a class that originated out of antiquated feudal labour-relations, and just as Aotearoa has no peasant class, we have no class that could be called a “lumpenproletariat.” To use this archaic rhetoric now would be to invite reactionaries, conservatives and fascists into the movement, as they would waste no time in using our terminology to attack beneficiaries, sex workers, prisoners and the formerly incarcerated, immigrants, Māori, and disabled people.
Instead we need to look to a different aspect of socialist analysis to describe people excluded from normal class relations. A tradition more concerned with understanding the position of unemployment and immigration in the grand scheme of worker’s oppression than it is with further ostracising poor people.
By 1867 Marx was no longer describing classless people using moralistic, and at times reactionary terms, but was instead focusing on the legislation and economic conditions that forced workers into destitution, and the role that this class was forced into in order to devalue the wages of all workers. This class was the “Industrial Reserve Army,” a group of erstwhile workers who were forced into unemployment so that they may fill gaps in the workforce in times of plenty, and work for little to nothing in times of hardship. This class of people was forced into a contradictory condition in which they are both required by capitalists in order to give some flexibility to economic conditions, while at the same time ostracising them and blaming their work ethic for their condition. We see this now in reactionary news sites and their constant attacks on beneficiaries and disabled people, blaming them for laziness while never acknowledging the simple fact that there are vastly fewer available jobs than there are unemployed.
This class of people is essentially indistinguishable from other workers, despite forming the lowest strata of the working class. We will go over the other strata in the next part of this appendix.
In addition to workers who can’t work, there are also people who are incapable of work, or denied normal work through employment conditions, abuse, oppression, conviction, and immigration status. Such people in unsteady work or on benefits deserve our full support and should never be ostracised or separated from worker’s struggles. The discriminatory policies of Work and Income NZ, Immigration NZ and successive neoliberal governments are the primary site of struggle for such people and it is in the interest of all workers to see these repressive institutions destroyed. We will go into more detail on workers with convictions, immigrant workers, and Māori workers in our sections on Justice, Internationalism, and Decolonisation respectively.
Socialist thinkers such as Franz Fanon revived the the discourse around classless people in the middle of the twentieth century, breaking with tradition in describing this class as “ready, capable and willing to revolt against the colonial status quo for liberation.” He identified a different form of classlessness that existed in colonial societies, which was different to the more unpredictable classlessness that existed in Western nations, one which was in the process of transition into industrial working class relations through coercion by imperialist states.
The state of New Zealand, as a settler-colonial nation, is in a special position with regard to where we sit in the divide between Core and Periphery, Coloniser nation and Colonised nation, First and Third world, etcetera. Contained within us is a contradiction, a racial segregation whereby several different living conditions, or several different “worlds” exist, which interact with modern imperialist finance capital in different ways. This has produced what some thinkers have called a “Fourth-World” society, wherein nations of Māori and nonwhite immigrants exists with segregated living conditions in an otherwise First-World society.
This segregation has produced a situation in which a nonwhite, colonised “déclassé” element has a national interest in revolution, and engages in this struggle out of cultural and economic reasons. This is not to say that Māori and immigrant communities are not without contradiction, or without individuals with an interest in upholding colonialism (see Appendix IV), just that the nonwhite déclassé and nonwhite workers have a unified interest in creating an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and revolutionary society in Aotearoa.
Ib: The working class in Aotearoa.
Most socialists can agree that the working class in any capitalist society is comprised of workers who sell their labour to an employer, and receive a wage in return. However the nuances and contradictions of what the working class is have never ceased to divide socialists. Given the huge amount of misinformation about what constitutes the working class, it seems easier to start with what the working class isn’t:
i. The working class isn’t just industrial “direct” producers:
Workers that directly take part in the manufacturing industry are increasingly rare in European and settler-colonial nations, as these industries are usually outsourced to the cheap labour of nations subject to imperialism, or are heavily automated so as to reduce the number of waged labourers. As a result, most workers in Aotearoa exist to support direct producers through reproductive, supplementary, or administrative labour. These are known as “indirect” producers, although their jobs are often just as difficult, unsafe and subject to petty tyranny as direct producers. To create a mass-based socialist organisation means working with both direct and indirect producers, rather than idealising one or the other as “real workers.”
ii. The working class isn’t predominantly white, or male.
Sometimes, reactionary writers refer to the working class, with the implied assumption that they are referring exclusively to white people or men. Anyone who has spent a second in the labour force of Aotearoa knows how ridiculous this assumption is, and yet it persists.
iii. The working class isn’t only the employed.
As we discussed in Appendix Ia. the working class overlaps with non-workers, in the form of a labour reserve, or unemployed workers who are willing to work, but have been forced out of employment due to the constant expansion and contraction of the capitalist economy. In addition, many workers, especially women, perform countless hours of domestic labour without pay, even though this reproductive labour contributes towards direct production (See Appendix V.).
iv. The working class isn’t exclusively poor.
The highest stratae of the working class often convince themselves that they have transcended class, and have become “middle class,” even though this term is essentially meaningless. Workers with savings, some invested capital, strong support networks and several safety nets are rare, and frequently the furthest from class consciousness, but are still workers insofar as they sell their labour to an employer and receive a wage in return. These stratae of workers are often given privileged positions at work, or have convinced themselves that they are “self-employed” when in fact they are just contract labour. At times they are given what anthropologist David Graeber calls “Bullshit Jobs,” relatively meaningless jobs which perform reflexive labour, ie. jobs which exist to ensure other workers do their jobs, such as administrative or management jobs. These exist to marginally increase productivity, but also as a form of corporate welfare which allows capitalists to delay the consumption crisis in their industry by increasing the buying power of workers (see Appendix IIb.16)
v. Working class isn’t a cultural identity.
Another way in which class position is obscured is through the reduction of classes into a handful of cultural signifiers and measures of intelligence. Working class identity has become strongly associated with certain countries, socio-economic areas, or even accents, while other countries, especially settler-colonial nations, are seen to have transcended class by overcoming traditional cultural signifiers of class. On the other hand, class can also be seen to be something that is negated by possessing characteristics of another, for example: a worker stops being a worker the second they rent out any capital. Both of these understandings of worker-identity are deeply vapid and flawed – a worker is a worker insofar as they perform labour for a capitalist, and a capitalist is only a capitalist insofar as they reap the benefits of investment. Various shades of grey exist in between, and are best understood through seeing work as an act rather than and identity.
Part of the confusion about what a worker is stems from the fact that the working class is the most diverse, divided, and distracted of all the classes in a capitalist society. Part of this is due to deliberate or unconscious misinformation by the ruling classes, and part of it is due to the autonomously-occuring divisions in social, economic and political relations that arise out of technology and the ephemeral nature of capitalism.
It is extremely easy for socialist organisations to adopt reactionary rhetoric when they see fissures and divides forming in the working class. Some react by blaming social phenomena on ruling-class conspiracies, while others react by adopting “class-reductionist” politics where existing divisions in the working classes are ignored. In both cases, such organisations ironically deviate even further from the path to a unified working class by blaming other stratae of workers for the divisions imposed upon them.
The autonomous process of capitalism, such as the need to undercut wages, as well as deliberate or unconscious efforts by the ruling class, produces a tendency whereby workers are divided into stratae based on aspects of their identity, with very little mobility between stratae.
In Aotearoa, this stratification is overwhelmingly based on immigration status and ethnicity, thanks to the settler-colonial nature of the New Zealand state. Low-quality healthcare and hospitality jobs are overwhelmingly filled by women and migrants. Industrial labour and work in trades is overwhelmingly performed by poorer Māori and Pākehā men. Intellectual labour, administration, and other white-collar jobs are the exclusive domain of the highest strata of Pākehā workers, with a small amount of room for minorities with prestigious degrees.
These stratae are obscured by overlapping divisions and occasional exceptions to the rule. The biggest exceptions to this stratification are in entertainment and the arts, where diversity is consciously or unconsciously promoted to further obscure the situation.
In all of these cases, we believe that the path to uniting people based on their class position, rather than their specific experience of oppression or their strata within their class, lies not with ignoring differences between workers, nor with valourising, idealising or othering the working class. Workers are contradictory, and contradictions shouldn’t be overlooked – racism, sexism and other oppressions within the workers’ movement are extremely divisive in the long term, and it is absurd to claim that pointing these divisive elements out is itself divisive. Movements which have excessively valourised or idealised groups of workers, or worse still, idealised their imperfections, have always ended in failure. Talking to people where they’re at, and dealing with contradictions when and where they arise (rather than preemptively or belatedly), has always proven to be a better strategy.
We must also be careful not to prioritise the needs of the higher stratae over the lower, or over the needs of international workers. The higher stratae of workers in the developed capitalist world are easily deluded into thinking that their interests lie with international finance capital’s ability to continue the oppression of workers in poorer nations, or perpetuate colonial relationships in settler-colonial states. Even more insidious is the idea that workers in developed nations can achieve their goals through the creation of effective welfare states and strong unions without resolving the contradictions of imperialism. We consider this to be false: imperialism created the conditions for marginally better treatment of workers in European or settler-colonial nations, but a victory won at the expense of others is no victory at all.
Ic. The ruling class, or Bourgeoisie.
Compared to the cultural, ethnic, gender, political, and moral diversity of the working class, the ruling class is vastly more homogenous. The ruling class are those who own the means of production, whether directly as in the case of medium-large business scions or indirectly as in the case of large investors. While they constantly compete amongst themselves, they stand united and with total class-consciousness when it comes to pushing back against economic threats from below. Their totalising cultural norms are a mish-mash of ideas pilfered from the Feudal aristocracy and modern working classes alike, while their form of morality is presented as universal values, stripped of historical context, or meaningful alternatives. Their world is one denuded of history, culture, and vision, and they can only continue to exist by stealing ideas, cultures, economic value, and meaning from those below them.24
In Aotearoa this class, as in all other capitalist countries, is vastly over-represented in politics and media, and all efforts are made to normalise the extreme disparity between their worldview and ours. Challenges to their free-reign over all that exists, such as Māori land rights or worker’s movements, are quashed with violence and extreme prejudice.
In Aotearoa, as in other settler-colonial states, the existence of the ruling class is minimised wherever possible, with individual members taking on cultural aspects of working class people and downplaying the impact of their wealth. The differences between the individual members of the bourgeoisie, their companies, and the labour of their employees, is similarly downplayed through oblique references to the desires, needs, and social necessity of the “business community.” It is seen as completely benign for this community to directly influence media, politicians and others when in actual fact this is the enforcement of the dictatorship of capital.
If we are to survive the next few decades, this parasitic class’ rule over us must end.
i. On the Petty-Bourgeoisie
There also exists a specific subsection of the Bourgeoisie that deserves its own mention because of the differences in its interests and approach to workers rights. The Petty-Bourgeoisie refers to small-scale capitalists, landlords, and others who profit off the labour of others, but who may sometimes struggle, or partially support themselves with their own labour. Examples of these may include landlords who work for a living but possess second houses for supplementary income, dairy owners who employ their family members, or small-scale farm owners who may have a few seasonal labourers, but no sizeable workforce or secondary properties.
It is difficult to put a finger on exactly where a person ceases being a member of the petty-bourgeoisie and enters the bourgeoisie-proper, as there is no concrete distinction aside from the size of their investments and workforce. The distinction is further complicated by the fact that many petty-bourgeois individuals think of themselves as working-class because of cultural affectations, while members of the working class believe themselves to have entered the petty-bourgeoisie because they are self-employed or independent contractors (who sell their labour and are economically exploited like anyone else). They are also sometimes confused with the professional-managerial class, another intermediate class which in actual fact is a slightly elevated strata of the working class.
The petty-bourgeoisie has areas in which its interests intersect with both bosses and workers in some places, but in other areas their interests are totally distinct. They are some of the worst abusers of workplace rights and safety legislation, as well as child labour laws. This is because the petty-bourgeoisie often employs their own friends and family, and will use personal relationships as leverage in a way that the more distant big-time capitalists will outsource to managers. For these reasons, the petty-bourgeoisie is often the first to oppose any change in workplace laws, as these have a more pronounced impact on their bottom line, which bigger employers can usually take in their stride. In other areas, the petty-bourgeoisie may have interests which align with workers, such as opposition to monopoly capitalism and its child, imperialism, albeit often with nativist or reactionary undertones.
For these reasons, a revolutionary movement may sometimes exploit the contradictions between the petty-bourgeoisie and the big-time capitalists. Under very specific circumstances workers movements, typically those in the global south, have even made alliances with sections of the bourgeoisie (creating a National Bourgeoisie, a section of this class opposed to the imperialist-aligned Comprador Bourgeoisie). However, in a settler-colonial context such an alliance is fraught with danger due to the nativist, reactionary, and anti-immigrant rhetoric that so frequently accompanies petty-bourgeois opposition to outside influences.
In Aotearoa there have also been frequent calls for an alliance between workers and farmers, based on the idea that the agricultural petty-bourgeoisie somehow has fundamentally different interests to the rest of their class. This is based partly in an appeal to the historical alliance between the workers’ movement and the peasantry, however to identify the modern agricultural petty-bourgeoisie with a semi-feudal class of tenant farmers is ahistorical to say the least – our solidarity is with farm labourers and the rural poor, rather than the farm owners themselves.
Appendix II: The nature of production in Aotearoa.
IIa. The nature of the New Zealand Economy
As a settler-colonial state, the New Zealand economy doesn’t fall neatly into commonly used national categories of development, such as “undeveloped,” “developing” and “developed.” These categories tend to refer to primarily agricultural, primarily manufactorial, and primarily service economies respectively.
Another commonly used method of economic categorisation is demographer Alfred Sauvy’s Three Worlds Model (often confused with Mao’s Three Worlds Theory which we will not discuss as it pertains mainly to mid-century China), which splits the world into the First World, composed of western nations, the Second World, at the time composed of Soviet-aligned nations but which now commonly refers to “developing” nations like China, and the Third World, composed of all other nations. Again Aotearoa’s situation is more complex, and we would do well to understand Chief George Manuel’s concept of a “Fourth World” when referring to Te Ao Māori, which is to say a nation within a “First World” settler-colonial nation with Third-World living conditions.
These systems of categorisation insufficiently address the conditions in settler-colonial states, which have economies somewhere between First and Third World or Developed and Undeveloped nations. These economies are based in the exploitation of colonial peoples, through land expropriation, as well as the exploitation of imported colonial labour throughout the early stages of development. Like European nations, they have high standards of living and technological development, but not through their own means, rather through historical client-state relationships to powerful Empires. In Aotearoa, this took the form of our relationship to the British Empire until the Second World War, and with the United States since 1951.
In European First World nations, a comfortable level of development was achieved by the ability to delay consumption crises by offloading large surpluses onto the colonies, which could absorb excess savings. In Settler-Colonial nations this same process happened internally, as states were able to offload surpluses by investing in developing new land and oppressing indigenous peoples to acquire more.
Finally, Settler-Colonial nations have continued to be subservient to European capital, or the capital of more established Settler-Colonial nations such as the United States. This has continued well past the period of direct colonial control into the present, but this is an economic rather than political relationship that is reflected in the types of industries present in New Zealand.
Since pre-capitalist times, states have expressed their domination of others through outsourcing primary industries to remote client states. The Romans outsourced their grain supply to Ptolemaic Egypt; the Portuguese Empire outsourced their agriculture to Morocco, and now Australia and Europe outsource much of their dairy industry to New Zealand. This is because secondary industries (manufacturing) produce products with a greater amount of labour time invested into them, while the primary industries which extract the resources necessary for manufacturing, or the food required for workers, often take up huge tracts of land with relatively little return on investment.
While the composition of the settler-colonial economy is quite similar to that of a Third-World or undeveloped nation, with its emphasis on agriculture, the living standards for the highest strata of workers and the bourgeoisie is comparable to European nations. This is because the Settler-Colonial economy pushes the more unenviable jobs on indigenous peoples and immigrants, who often have vastly subpar living conditions, or are denied access to basic services. Through this mechanism, as well as the tendency towards stratification of the working class in order to reduce wages (see Appendix Ib), Settler-Colonial economies are able to maintain the cultural expectation of First-World conditions by creating an invisible “Fourth World” of racialised or colonised labour.25
IIb. Primary, productive and indirect productive industries in Aotearoa
The following is an analysis of key industries which are relevant to workers’ movements in Aotearoa, due to acute struggles within the industry, or the key roles they play in the New Zealand economy. We have separated these into primary industries (those concerned with resource extraction), productive industries (industries which produce commodities), and indirect productive industries (those which are involved in the social reproduction of labour, or which somehow support the production cycle or the state).262728
Primary (extractive) industries.
Agriculture is a key industry in Aotearoa as it is the 7th largest employer, and 10th largest industry, but also the most rapidly shrinking industry, with constant value losses of a quarter of a billion between March and June 2019, and volume losses of two thirds of a billion.
In the past, socialists in Aotearoa have incorrectly assessed small-holding farmers to be a revolutionary class in the same vein as the peasantry was in early 20th century movements. We hold this to be ridiculous, as most farmers are still employers and small-scale capitalists, albeit ones who are at risk of being pushed into the proletariat. We predict that the shrinking of agricultural industries, which has continued over the last few decades, will cause increased urbanisation and strain on the already delicate housing market, along with increases in rural poverty and the devastation of smaller communities. We must prioritise the needs of newly unemployed rural workers rather than their defunct employers during this transition. History shows that disaffected rural youth can easily be led in the direction of fascism, and while socialism remains contained to the cities, the countryside is left open to fascist organisers and opportunists who will rejoice at our inability to connect with people across the town/country divide.
In doing so we should not make assumptions about the degree of traditional conservatism amongst rural workers. It is no longer the 1930s, where white New Zealanders worked on small farms with minimal assistance. In 2019 agriculture is a mass employer of many immigrants and Māori workers whose interests align with ours, if only we apply correct and relevant organising tactics to their workplaces. The greatest mistake would be to assume a degree of reactionary rhetoric in the countryside by misidentifying our base with the former rural landowning class.29
Like other countries in our region, mining in Aotearoa is a very small employer with roughly 5000 workers. It is also a massively profitable industry with an annual revenue of $2.4 billion. This, as well as the vast level of capital investment in mining, implies to socialists that the rate of exploitation in this industry is extremely high.
Like Australia, our mining industry has a relatively low rate of unionisation due to high wages and employee benefits. Perhaps paradoxically this is because of the extremely high rate of exploitation in mining due to mass automation and a corresponding increase in productivity and low number of human workers.
The results of this low level of unionisation have been catastrophic, with mining disasters such as Pike River in 2010, which took the lives of 29 workers, directly caused by inadequate safety and inspection regulations. There are simply no workers institutions which are able to push for better safety laws without an increase in mining unionisation.
The task for socialists is difficult, as mines are often remote, closed to organisers due to safety restrictions, and out of contact with unions. We must politically agitate for better treatment of these workers, and remember that even though workers might be well paid this doesn’t mean that they are not being subjected to extraordinary exploitation.
Fisheries are a growing industry in New Zealand despite the extraordinary environmental damage they cause. Officially, fisheries are a relatively large employer, with a tidy profit of $2.2 billion annually, but these official figures don’t take into account the massive foreign fishing fleets based here, especially huge ocean going trawlers from South Korea and Japan which fish in international waters.
Since so much of the industry takes place in heavily unregulated places, out of sight of law enforcement or unions, there can be no doubt that the dismal conditions reported by fisheries workers are merely the tip of the iceberg. Everything from slavery to sexual assault has been reported on these ships, with a major scandal from 2012 to 2014 resulting in marginally improved fishing regulations.30
Locally owned fisheries are somewhat better than foreign trawlers, with many owned by Iwi (see Appendix IV). However given the extraordinarily poor history of workers’ rights on the high seas, these should never be free from the scrutiny of socialists. We must make connections with fishery workers and ensure that the level of abuse that has come to light over the last decade is never repeated.
Forestry, as well as its associated manufacturing industries such as paper, wood, and furniture, is an important industry, employing a sizeable portion of the rural workforce and powering some of the few industries with their entire production cycles taking place in Aotearoa. However like the other primary industries it has a negative effect on the environment, and relatively poor work safety and work quality.
The forestry industry has also managed to secure massive stimulus packages from the Labour government under the guise of “environmental” legislation. The “One Billion Trees” policy exists primarily to benefit large pine plantation owners, with insubstantial incentives for switching to native plantation trees like Manuka. Meaningful changes in forestry must include the establishment of better work safety legislation, and making pine plantations considerably less common.
Like mining, petroleum is a small employer with massive profits, implying a greater level of automation and exploitation in the industry. The industry is largely based off the coast of Taranaki where off-shore rigs were developed from 1968, however Aotearoa is home to one of the world’s oldest oil industries with the first land-based rig opening in 1865.
The location of this industry in Taranaki has naturally caused a great deal of conflicts with local Taranaki Iwi, some of the most historically downtrodden Iwi in Aotearoa. Recent oil prospecting licenses imply that the industry will soon rapidly expand across many previously untapped areas. When that time comes, socialists must stand with Māori leaders against this extremely devastating and invasive industry.
Due to the deleterious effects of oil and gas on both the environment and indigenous communities, our efforts should be put into advocating for a transition to industries with transferable skills, such as offshore wind-farming.
6. Materials manufacturing
The bulk of the traditional manufactories in New Zealand, of the type that Marx would have been most familiar with when discussing the relations of production of the 19th century, are simple factories for processing materials, such as plastics, metals, textiles, wood and food manufacturing.
These are simple to understand industries where a raw material in taken, worked upon by both living workers and “dead labour” (machinery) thereby adding additional value to the end product. This end product is then sold for a value greater than the total sum of wages paid to the worker.
Since this is a process that allows for easy explanation of why and how workers are exploited, manufactory workers are natural allies of socialists, so long as we don’t make the mistake of mischaracterising them as the blue-collared, overalls-wearing white male workers of Dickensian fiction. Manufactory workers are also the source of some of the key private-sector strikes of recent years, such as the Sistema plastics strike in 2018.
Overall we can expect manufactory workers to retain a high level of militancy, especially when socialists make active efforts to organise with them.
7. Machinery manufacturing
Machinery manufacturing is a considerable industry in Aotearoa, which covers the creation of machines like tractors, cranes and factory tools. The mechanics by which these are created is similar to the process described above for materials manufacturing, except instead of the end products being made into products to sell to consumers, the products are sold to other capitalists to be used in production. These constitute the “means of production” which we socialists so often express our desire to seize.
Another common phrase used by socialists is to “build up the productive forces” of a country, by which we mean producing enough of these productive machines so that all workers may have access to the means by which we can provide for everyone. One of the few benefits of capitalism is that it allowed us to develop these productive forces, which we now seek to put to use for all people, rather than just capitalists.
Indirect productive industries.
8. Healthcare and social assistance
Healthcare and social assistance is the largest employer in Aotearoa, with roughly 190,000 to 200,000 workers in the industry. It encompasses all stratae of the working class, from relatively well-paid doctors, professional nurses, to a largely immigrant labour force of aged-care workers, precarious workers in in-home care services and support work.
As a result there are many contradictions among healthcare workers, and many false antagonisms that are exploited by their employers. They are also represented by unions which consider themselves to have different interests, and different strategies when it comes to dealing with bosses.
However, no one doubts the necessity of this work, or the often courageously self-sacrificing nature of many healthcare workers. Unfortunately it is this nature that has often made organising for fair deals difficult, as employers are able to moralise over the fate of patients.
Basic wage improvements are a priority for socialists willing to fight for this heavily exploited workforce, as our healthcare workers are horribly underpaid compared to other nations like Australia. Healthcare has been the site of both public and private sector strikes in recent years, with many workers becoming militant in the face of failed negotiations. This is a key area of interdiction for socialists as we are able to offer structural reasons behind the difficulties faced by frustrated healthcare workers.
Retail is the second biggest employer in Aotearoa with roughly 190,000 workers. Tasked with selling the end result of productive industry, retail workers are often paid minimum wage in casualised and precarious jobs.
Retail also has a low rate of unionisation thanks to the relatively high turnover of workers. This makes the creation of lasting links between unionists difficult.
Raising public awareness, and pushing for legislation to limit the casual nature of retail work, work begun during the Zero-Hour contracts campaign of 2015, seems to be the priority for socialists looking to organise in this industry. Better union representation is a prerequisite for more direct interdiction in this industry, and limits on casualisation are a prerequisite for better union representation.
10. Scientific and Technological services
Scientific and Technological services are the fourth largest employer, and largest industry in Aotearoa by GDP. This reflects the extremely high level of automation and complexity in an industry primarily concerned with computing. As we have learnt in looking into other industries, this implies a greater level of exploitation among the workforce – higher wages are paid to compensate for the huge values created for employers, while lowering the chances of a corresponding rise in unionisation.
Tech industries are often poorly represented in the unions movement, and sometimes ignored by socialists. This is perhaps because of the very indirect nature of their relationship to production–If they ‘produce’ only immaterial lines of code, how can they be considered as workers?
This misconception is based on two things – an incorrect understanding of what materiality is (computing data is still represented by tangible physical phenomena within the computer, even if we can’t see it), and an incorrect understanding of indirect productive work. Tech workers are often key components in developing the means of production through software for productive machinery, or assisting with administrative aspects of industry, or assisting with social reproduction of labour.
In Aotearoa some parts of the tech industry, especially those connected to film or gaming, are categorically denied the right to unionise thanks to the “Hobbit Law” which prohibits the unionisation of all screen industries. Repealing this law would seem to be a priority for socialists wishing to organise in this industry.
Education plays a crucial role in the social reproduction of labour. It is the place where workers are trained in the use of basic workplace skills to assist with their employability, and are ingrained with a bit of bourgeois morality and ideology. However aside from these functions, education also has a positive impact on many workers’ lives, as through education the span of acceptable social mobility under capitalism is broadened. The teaching profession also attracts a certain type of genuine idealism and progressiveness that can at times counteract the more cynical side of the education system.
Organising among teachers and students is an excellent way of harnessing the boundless energy of younger generations, however there are also some pitfalls for organisers. Past socialist organisations have become too invested in university politics, becoming distanced from the wider political world. On other occasions, they have poached young students to join organisations, without fully explaining what they are getting into before using their energies.
Any socialist organising in the education system must be primarily based around improving conditions for teachers, improving the quality and distribution of services, and counteracting harmful ideologies within educational spaces. If we are to organise with students, then let it be in support of their own initiatives such as the School Strikes for Climate, rather than our own.
Construction is the 6th largest employer, and 4th largest industry by GDP in Aotearoa. The conditions within the construction industry are best understood in relation to the housing crisis (see the Housing section).
The construction industry in Aotearoa is experiencing a boom thanks to the housing crisis, but with this expansion, the industry has not seen a corresponding rise in unionisation. A construction union comparable to the militant CFMEU in Australia is nowhere to be seen, and construction workers continue to experience poor pay, safety standards, and casualisation.
As a growing industry it is of a high priority to socialists seeking to organise precarious workers. Aotearoa has vastly poorer conditions for construction workers compared to our neighbors, and socialists must fill the void left by the relative absence of unions in this industry.
13. Transportation and Warehousing
Transport and warehouse workers work for the 11th largest employer, and 8th most profitable industry in Aotearoa. This industry is concerned with the transport and storage of industrial goods, such as the massive quantities of raw resources we export, and the considerable produce from manufactories.
It is also an industry with a historically high level of militancy. Waterfront workers, perhaps the most important transportation workers, were at the helm of two of Aotearoa’s biggest and most militant strikes: the 1913 Great Strike and the 1951 Waterfront Strike, both a source of massive confrontations with the state which nearly brought the capitalist system to a standstill.
As with most other historically militant workforces, transport workers have been subjected to sweeping automation, stratification through immigrant labour, and casualisation.
This was a crucial conquest for the New Zealand bourgeoisie, as transportation workers have access to crucial “nodes of production” such as port facilities, warehouse districts, airports, and more. The bulk of New Zealand’s resources, consumer goods, and machinery pass through these nodes at one point or another, meaning that control of these nodes effectively grants control of vast swathes of our industry.
This is therefore a key area of socialist interdiction. Organising workers here creates the conditions for extremely effective solidarity strikes with other industries, as transport workers frequently have even more control over goods production than the workers producing those goods.
14. Government/State workers
Government or State workers is an extremely broad category, which encompasses some industries we have already covered. What we intend to discuss are those government workers who do not contribute to production at all, or which are purely tasked with upholding the functions of the state and its monopoly on violence.
Government workers who do not contribute to socially useful forms of administration, nor production, cannot be considered as workers who can easily be won over to the socialist cause. This is not to say that they never will, just that their economic interests will always be tied to the perpetuation of bureaucracy and the security forces of the state.
The state, which is to say, the most fundamental and irreplaceable parts of government, are the army and police. We will go into the police in more detail in the Justice section, suffice to say we do not consider them comrades.
The New Zealand Defense forces are perhaps more complex, as many socialists consider capitalist militaries to be excellent spaces for socialist organising. This is a view forged from the experiences of socialists fighting in the First World War among vast conscript armies of poorly-trained workers, who could easily be won over to the socialist cause. This strategy is somewhat outdated in an age of professional armies, fully trained and indoctrinated in support of the State, and fully integrated into the command structure of imperialist nations. While a degree of organising is possible, it must first and foremost be along anti-imperialist and anti-war grounds, as many soldiers come to experience these phenomena firsthand. It may also be possible, as has been done in the past, to organise amongst auxiliary workforces in connection with the military, such as naval engineers, but again this must be conducted along anti-imperialist as well as any demands based on working conditions.
Our main means of organising with the Police and military must always be to ask them to quit their jobs.
Finance, insurance, rental, and real-estate
These industries are concerned with trading in highly speculative commodities, where the line between real and fictional capital is blurred. This professional class of workers are often paid on commission, or with other incentives intended to tie their economic interests with those of their employer.
This workforce is difficult for us to organise amongst, as they provide few socially useful services, and are mainly contracted out to manage the interests of the bourgeoisie for them. This is not to say that organising them is impossible, but it is simply not the best use of our time.
16. Reflexive labour industries
Large segments of the service and administrative industries are devoted to a form of work that cannot be said to contribute to production in any meaningful way. These are jobs which are primarily concerned with eliminating problems created by other workers, administering administrators, triple-checking editors and so on. This work employs thousands of people who cannot seriously be said to understand what it is they do all day.
The emergence of this kind of work in the 1970s led sociologist Jürgen Habermas to coin the term reflexive labour which refers to “labor applied to itself with the aim of increasing the productivity of labor.” Habermas claimed that this form of labour effectively counteracted Marx’s proposed Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF), as it allowed for unlimited increases to productivity, as well as the indefinite delay of consumption crises by creating a class of dedicated consumers. Of course this was proven wrong by the succeeding few decades of economic crisis. Marx showed that increases in worker productivity actually accelerate the cycle of crisis by decreasing the organic composition of labour, meaning that the idea of workers mutually increasing one another’s productivity is flawed (see the above section We should reject regressive, perfunctory or temporary solutions to crises).
A similar theory proposed by anthropologist David Graeber popularised the term “Bullshit Jobs,” which refers to jobs pursued for no logical reason, that serve no purpose beyond solving problems created by bullshit jobs. He blamed this on a “puritan-capitalist work ethic,” but this doesn’t explain the structural reasons behind such jobs.
What is readily apparent is that this reflexive labour force exists. We believe that this is because First World nations have effectively created a form of corporate welfare for the highest stratae of workers. Workers employed in order to be consumers, and to create demand in order to stave off consumption crisis. Any efforts to organise such workers must be based on realising the sheer absurdity of their situation.
17. Sex work
We consider sex work and associated industries to be work. Assertions that sex work is somehow structurally different to exploitation in other industries are based in a false or moralistic understandings of capitalist social relations, or else a misapplied concern for victims of sex-trafficking.
Legal sex work in Aotearoa takes place in brothels, which while still exploitative in economic terms, are vastly safer than street work. The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective has done groundbreaking work in legalising this part of the industry, whereas in other countries sex work is performed in vastly worse conditions.
We support sex workers in any economic struggles with brothel owners, as well as against the delegitimising and ostracising forces in society that would push them back into street work. Any interdiction by socialists into the sex industry must first and foremost be led by sex workers.31
In the long term, we must also work towards the full unionisation of Sex Work, however the precarious nature of this work, as well as the comparably better conditions in Aotearoa compared to other countries, means that this would be a process that would need to involve international struggles and new improvements in local conditions.32
IIc. Trans-national production in Aotearoa.
Explaining the various industries involved in the New Zealand Economy is insufficient if we wish to get a full picture of the capitalist world we inhabit. As a country that is fully entangled in the web of international capitalist relations, the production occurring in this country is but a fraction of the total sum of productive relations we come into contact with.
As discussed in Appendix IIa. Aotearoa’s land use is largely devoted to agriculture and primary industries, while our biggest industries are in the service sector. The economy possesses a mix of characteristics from those found in Third World nations, to those found only in the First World. One of these First World characteristics is that the bulk of our manufacturing has been outsourced to countries with considerably worse wages and labour laws.
The plight of international workers is therefore inexorably tied to our own. The global systems which push manufacturing onto colonised workforces are perpetuated by our local bourgeoisie, and by fighting them we can help workers who are in much worse conditions than ourselves.
This process is elaborated in the Internationalism section.
Appendix III: A history of Capitalist development in Aotearoa.
Written with the assistance of Dr. Jason Smith, professor of archeology and lifelong Communist agitator. Organise Aotearoa would like to thank Dr. Smith for providing his life’s work free of charge in the name of international solidarity.
IIIa. Note on anthropological terminology.
In this appendix we will be using the terminology of Dr. Jason Smith in describing the various modes of production in historical and future societies. This is a mix of the terminology used by Engels in On the Origin of the Family and more modern anthropological terminology in order to account for more recent archeological knowledge around the Chiefdoms period, which Engels referred to as Barbarism. These are:
1. Original Communist
Egalitarian societies based on a lack of scarcity or accumulation. Family structures are decentralised around small, tightly knit units equivalent to whānau and hapū.
2. Simple Chiefdoms
A small amount of scarcity in turn prompts a small amount of accumulation to account for “lean times.” Communities still live with relative equality, but may appoint leaders to look over the surplus. They may centralise into broader family units equivalent to iwi, but individual families are still free to come and go.
3. Advanced Theocratic Chiefdoms
Communities passively control the movement of families around the centre via religious practices that promote social unity. The process of accumulation is no longer just for lean times, but is actively pursued and socially controlled by appointed leaders. Family groupings have now grown into meta-groupings equivalent to waka.
4. Tributary Societies
The centre no longer permits the free movement of families to and fro, and enforces its rule militarily. Communities are now detached from family groupings, and are instead organised around landowners who pay tribute to the centre. Religion now strictly enforces unity through threats of apostasy. Accumulation is so great that traders begin to buy and sell small surpluses between each other.
The power of the small traders of Feudal societies has now become so great that they can buy and sell whole nations. The tributary landowners are supplanted or sidelined by this bourgeoisie, and their tenant farmers are displaced into cities en masse. Mass industry takes the place of small artisans and traders. The centre has now grown into a bourgeois state with its own police force to protect private property from the workers, who now produce all things in society.
The workers realise that they are the ones who produce all things in society, and that the bourgeoisie is entirely unnecessary. They overthrow this ruling class, and set about dismantling the state they have created. The workers are now free to produce only what they need, and have enough free time to rapidly expand the technological horizons of humanity.
IIIb. Original Communist Societies to Simple Chiefdoms.
Prior to contact with Europeans, Māori had established a lasting, stable, and peaceful presence on the previously uninhabited islands of Aotearoa. This society began with migrations from Hawaiki (a term for homeland, which likely included Ra’iātea in the Society Islands) to Aotearoa around 1288 A.C.E. landing at Wairau bar in the northeast South Island. More recent research may yield earlier dates, but we do know that whenever they landed these Polynesian settlers brought complex shell tools with them from Eastern Polynesia.33
These settlers were in the middle of what is known as a broad-spectrum revolution. A stage in which Original Communist societies begin to develop enough advanced paleolithic tools and cultural knowledge to make use of all the natural resources available to them, as well as cultivating their own resources through agriculture. These settlers were adept at farming bush kūmara and taro, but the abrupt change from tropical conditions produced a degree of scarcity. Māori instead began the year-long harvesting of native bracken fern roots and cabbage trees, which would be the main staples of the Māori diet up until colonisation.
Seasonal shortages of kūmara and taro created the conditions for a degree of accumulation. As in other societies, this began with the creation of storage pits, in this case for storing kūmara tubers over winter.
IIIc. Simple Chiefdoms to Advanced Theocratic Chiefdoms
The necessity of accumulation produced the conditions for a transition into a new mode of production. The egalitarian selection of rangatira was partially replaced with a mix of hereditary, democratic, and mana-based systems of socially selecting rangatira. Both tāne and wāhine could become rangatira, but they now had to prove their ability to protect their whānau, as limited warfare over accumulated resources was now a possibility.
As the iwi developed as a more defined social structure, a division of labour occurred amongst the constituent hapū. Some hapū became dedicated warriors, some managed trade between iwi, and others handled major projects like constructing marae. The main contradiction in this kind of society is that individual members and whānau may leave whenever they wish, taking resources or labour power with them.
This created the conditions for a unifying system of spirituality. As iwi transitioned into advanced theocratic chiefdoms, this spiritual understanding, the study of the `atua and their connection to individuals, was spread through increasingly complex oral histories. Recitation of whakapapa back through centuries became a measure of mana. Appreciation of whaikorero, waiata, carving, and tā moko grew as arts became an important aspect of social cohesion.
Concurrently, rangatira came into a degree of competition for land and resources. This led to the creation of fortified pā, which dot the landscape across Aotearoa as lumps and bumps across hilltops. Nonetheless, Māori society is mischaracterised as a “warlike culture” when in actual fact, conflict was relatively limited, and restricted by seasonal harvests, right up until the musket wars when revolutions in agriculture allowed for standing armies to form.
The reason we begin this section with an overview of Māori productive relations is because capitalism was imposed upon an existing advanced society with a degree of accumulation. There is a tendency to misrepresent Māori society either as wholly “savage” and undeveloped, or on the other side of the coin, represent it as an idyllic vestige of “noble savagery” in which people lived in harmony with pristine nature. Both of these misconceptions serve to reinforce colonial ideology.
The existing state of societies in Aotearoa was crucial to the process of colonisation. If it weren’t for the hospitality of rangatira, several early colonists would have never survived their first year. Without the existing massive agricultural projects at places like Ihumātao, cities like Auckland would have taken many more years to establish. Capitalism didn’t simply wipe the slate clean and start from the ground up; the speed by which it took over Aotearoa can also be explained by its ability to incorporate pre-existing productive forces.
Capitalism’s expansion across the world is frequently a subject of romanticisation about the “hard men” who tamed frontiers and set the foundations of the settler-colonial societies we inhabit. Just as the “Wild West” was tamed by mythologised outlaws and ranchers, so too were the first pre-treaty contacts between European capitalism and Te Ao Māori marked with a sort of frenzied frontier spirit that unleashed the roughest parts of western society onto Aotearoa.
These first whalers, gun runners and privateers are rarely discussed compared to the Europeans who settled in the post-treaty colony. However they were fundamental to the introduction of capitalism well before more established official colonies began. They included men like Charles de Thierry, who sold the first trade muskets to Hongi Hika, in return for what he thought was the right to establish his own kingdom here. Unbeknownst to either of these men, these muskets, as well as new farming techniques, would create the conditions for the musket wars that obliterated traditional family structures and limitations that had prevented large-scale warfare in precolonial times. The European traders and gun runners flocked to take advantage of newly emptied and devastated Māori lands, or took temporary Māori wives in order to coerce them into signing away lands. The settlers mainly conducted peaceful trade, unlike more violent colonial conquests elsewhere, but it was this trade in muskets and more efficient European agricultural goods that caused what amounted to a genocide as severe as any which occured in Australia or the Americas.
Of course the wild dreams of early settlers were put to rest with the establishment of European officialdom and colonial authority. In order to end the chaos of the Musket Wars, the British colonists offered the Queen’s peace and protection in return for a farcical partnership, and in doing so end French plans to expand their colony at Akaroa. We discuss this further in the section Constitutional Transformation.
With the most powerful obstacles to colonisation pacified, the imported state apparatus from Britain was free to impose capitalism on Aotearoa as it had already done in so many lands. The process of dividing up collectively-held land into private property (the enclosure of the commons) was also imported from Britain, where the process had concluded some decades before. Walls and fencing began to dot the landscape and divide it into parcels to be valued, bought, and sold.
However there were also contradictions within the colonial establishment. It soon became clear to Māori that they were deceived by the Treaty, and as a result, Hone Heke fought the flagstaff war to prevent illegal incursions into Ngāpuhi lands. Governor Robert Fitzroy, who since 1843 had conceded some legal rights to Māori, was replaced by the brutal, absolutist rule of Governor George Grey.
A competing capitalist power, and remnant of the more unrestrained capitalist expansion of the pre-treaty period, was the New Zealand Company, which saw itself as something of a private state power. In 1845 and 1846 the Company had proposed splitting the colony in two. Britain’s Colonial Secretary rejected the proposal, but the company promoted vigorous attacks on its opponents including the British Colonial Office, successive governors of New Zealand, and the Church Missionary Society (CMS).
The company assumed Governor Grey would support a more aggressive policy of land acquisition, and launched a private invasion of Ngāti Rangatahi lands in the Hutt Valley. Grey moved troops into the area in 1846 but they were defeated by Māori guerilla tactics, and the campaign was inconclusive.
This campaign was also the cause for some of the first acts of solidarity between settlers and Māori against the state. Grey had to contend with several newspapers that voiced their dissent about the shamelessly capitalistic invasion of the Hutt, and the dishonest practices of the missionaries and New Zealand Company men who had started it.
Grey took pains to tell the Māori that he had observed the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, assuring them that their land rights would be fully recognized. In the Taranaki district, the Māori were very reluctant to sell their land, but elsewhere Grey was much more successful, and nearly 33 million acres (130,000 km²) were purchased from the Māori, with the result that British settlements expanded quickly. In 1852 the capitalist state had expanded to fully administer Aotearoa with the New Zealand Constitution Act establishing central and provincial governance.
Immediately before Grey’s re-appointment as governor, there were rising tensions in Taranaki based on the correct assertion that Waikato iwi had never signed the farcical Treaty and were a separate nation. Eventually this brought the Redcoats to Waitara in the First Taranaki War. The war lasted from March 1860 until 1862 and was fought by more than 3,500 imperial troops brought in from Australia, as well as volunteer soldiers and militia, against Māori forces that fluctuated between a few hundred and about 1,500. The war was continued in 1863, when Grey launched his war with an invasion of the Waikato. The strategy was to take control of the heartland of the Kīngitanga. The war brought thousands of British troops to New Zealand: 18,000 men served in the British forces at some point during the campaign, and brought the colonial authorities to the verge of bankruptcy. The innovative tactics used by Māori minimised casualties, and Te Kooti and Titokowaru had the colonial government and settlers extremely alarmed with their series of military successes.
Between 1865 and 1869 it became clear to the British Colonial Office that the campaign was pointless and would bankrupt the colony. Regiments were returned, and when Grey attempted to delay them he too was removed. In 1869 Governor Sir George Bowen called off the search for rebel rangatira and the result was a Māori victory against incredible odds.
After the wars, some Māori began a strategy of passive resistance, most famously at Parihaka in Taranaki. Most, such as Ngāpuhi and Te Arawa continued co-operating with Pākehā. For example, tourism ventures were established by Te Arawa around Rotorua. Resisting and co-operating Iwi both found that Pakeha desire for land remained. In the last decades of the 1800’s, most Iwi lost substantial amounts of land through the activities of the Native Land Court. This court had ostensibly been set up to give Māori land European-style titles, and to establish exactly who owned it. Due to its Eurocentric rules, the high fees, its location remote from the lands in question, and unfair practices by Pākehā land agents, its main function turned out to be allowing any Māori to sell their land without restraint from other tribal members.
By 1881, despite the military defeats by Māori guerillas, capitalism had become fully established in the colony. A labour force of some half a million European settlers had been imported. As the Pākehā population grew, pressure grew on Māori to sell more land. Land was not only an economic resource, but also one basis of Māori identity. There was a connection with their tūpuna’s bones, and land was used communally under the mana of rangatira. Pākehā accused Māori of holding onto lands that would better serve those who would develop them fully, and this logic continues to the present day.
After 1840, only the government was allowed to purchase land from the Māori, who received cash. The government bought practically all the useful land and resold it to the New Zealand Company, which used it to promote immigration, or leased it locally for sheep runs. The Company resold the best tracts to British settlers, so corruption was the order of the day. What Company ledger profits which actually made it to the books, were then used to pay the travel costs of immigrants from Britain. Because of the vast distances involved, the first settlers were self-sufficient farmers, with capital to spare for livestock and tools. By the 1840s, big sheep stations were exporting large quantities of wool to the textile mills of England. Farmers settled in the central region on either side of Cook Strait, and at Wellington, Whanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson. These settlements had access to some of the richest plains in the country.
In 1862, refrigerated ships appeared, and farming towns developed into regions of small-scale farming and meatpacking. Outside of these compact settlements were the sheep runs. Pioneer pastoralists, often men with experience as squatters in Australia, leased lands from the government at the annual rate of £5 plus £1 for each 1,000 sheep above the first 5,000. The leases were renewed automatically, which gave the wealthy pastoralists a strong landed interest and made them a powerful political force. In all between 1856 and 1876, 8.1 million acres were sold for £7.6 million, and 2.2 million
acres were given free to soldiers, sailors and settlers. Gold discoveries in Otago (1861) and Westland (1865), caused a worldwide gold rush that more than doubled the New Zealand population in a short period, from 71,000 in 1859 to 164,000 in 1863. The value of trade increased fivefold from £2 million to £10 million. This prompted Premier Julius Vogel to launch an ambitious public works project based on speculative investment from the homeland.
Growth did not match speculation, and Aotearoa experienced its first taste of the capitalist cycle of crisis. The long depression from the late 1870s through to the early 1890s was an accident waiting to happen. Some argue that the depression began earlier, in the late 1860s, as the quarrying of limited resources and the war economy ran out, but that the underlying sluggishness of the 1870s was obscured by unsustainable borrowing.
The slump was precipitated by the collapse of the City Bank of Glasgow in 1878. This led to a credit contraction in the City of London, then the center of the world’s financial system, which reduced the credit available to New Zealand. With many activities dependent upon credit and landowners heavily over-borrowed, a credit shortage compounded the effects of a falling wool price.
There was much hardship, with sweatshop-type exploitative labor conditions in the factories, a lack of jobs for rural workers, and farmers going bankrupt. Harry Atkinson, the dominant colonial treasurer during these years, got a reputation for cutting government expenditure. As always, the capitalists see little choice but to retrench themselves safely and shift the burden to workers, who are sent to the street without any means of support. By 1895 an increase in jobs, lowering of prices, and increase in investment created the conditions for a return to economic boom.
Trade in frozen meats and wool grew in accordance with the boom, and public works projects allowed the rural bourgeoisie to flourish. An urban petty-bourgeoisie developed in the early years of the 20th century, imposing its will onto the huge workforce of packers and dockworkers in the cities through full use of the repressive apparatus of the state. Dairy farmers became important in areas where no wool could be grown.
The North Atlantic economies moved out of depression in the mid-1890s. Refrigerated exports became significant as the British seized on the new high-quality food New Zealand farmers produced. Under a Liberal government, New Zealand went into a boom that lasted until about 1920. As hard-rock gold, native timber and kauri gum became depleted, pastoral-farming products became a 90+% share of exports by 1950. Māori were completely left behind by this boom as they could not enter the capital-intensive markets of dairy and wool farming.
In the Post Second World War period, New Zealand gravitated away from a market based purely in British consumption to one based in worldwide export. This situation of an agricultural export economy continued until the 1970-80s, when the collapse of the British market thanks to the establishment of the European Union (and subsequently cheaper mainland European agricultural goods), as well as tension with US Imperialism thanks to the Anti-Nuclear movement, meant that the New Zealand state encouraged a shift away from an export economy towards one that mixed agricultural exports with a high-tech, light industry, and services based economy.
This situation continues to this day. Capitalism has been in place for nearly two centuries, and with it the mass exploitation of Māori and the millions of immigrant labourers imported by capitalist enterprise. It is also a country marked by a political stagnation and erosion of basic freedoms common to the rest of the neoliberal capitalist world. Any further economic, political and social developments in Aotearoa will be as the result of a renewed movement for socialism.34
Appendix IV: Te Ao Māori and Capitalism.
Written and approved with the assistance of the Organise Aotearoa Māori Caucus.
Support for a return to total Tino Rangatiratanga is often incorrectly characterised as a willingness to hand over authority in all its forms to Iwi as they currently exist, or to establish a form of Māori capitalism. This relies on an incorrect understanding of the historical development of Iwi since colonisation began.
As we discussed in Appendix III. Capitalism was imposed upon Aotearoa through both a brutal political and military campaign to establish white settlements, as well as the more insidious and unintentional transformation of the social relations within Māori society.
The technological revolution implied by the first trade muskets from Britain, and potato seeds from Australia brought aboard Hongi Hika’s waka in 1821, led to a near total disintegration of Māori whānau structures and the social allocation of mana. Even today, we understand tīkanga only through the fragments left behind after colonial violence shattered the full picture. To apply a modern, fragmented understanding of Māori law to the full economic implications of decolonisation, without adapting to current conditions, would be to alienate many Māori.
This view also misunderstands the relationship between Māori capitalism, and European capitalism. The existence of an indigenous capitalist class is something unique to Aotearoa, but it isn’t something we should celebrate. It was primarily created as a buffer between the crown and Māori workers, and should be seen as such: another colonial imposition, rather than something that arose out of Māori nationalism.
This buffer class was created through treaty settlements and trusts, themselves only a paltry sum compared to a century and a half of violent extraction of value from tāngata whenua. These settlements were designed to never reach the poorest members of Iwi, instead it dulled the contradictions between colonised and coloniser, by creating a parasitic class whose interests conditionally align with the colonial bourgeoisie, depending on how many table scraps they recieve.
This contradiction was thrown into stark contrast at Ihumātao, where it wasn’t a case of Iwi capitalists developing land, nor the colonial bourgeoisie unilaterally seizing land. Instead, developers formed an alliance with small-time Iwi capitalists, promising them access to 40 houses out of 480 if they would use their mandate to sell out their own whanau. Through this process of coercing permission out of Iwi leaders, the capitalist development of Aotearoa can continue unhindered, even if it tramples Tino Rangatiratanga in the process.
Of course this ploy didn’t work. The crown and the colonial bourgeoisie didn’t give working class Māori enough credit for their ability to spot the glaring class contradictions within Iwi that allowed this sham to go ahead.
Affirming Tino Rangatiratanga is a means for socialists to fight against capitalism, provided it is not interpreted in an overly simplistic way that implies a mere replacement of leaders without throwing out the whole colonial capitalist order. Tino Rangatiratanga is also about empowering the poorest members of Iwi to throw out their comprador bourgeoisie and attempt to piece together the pre-capitalist social relations that were taken from them with a view towards developing new socialist relations of production.
We oppose Iwi capitalism, as well as those who imply that it cannot be disentangled from a movement for true Mana Motuhake. We stand in support of the Māori movement for decolonisation, which necessitates socialism if it is to ever be implemented.
Appendix V: Feminised Labour in Aotearoa.
Written and approved with the assistance of the Feminist Caucus of Organise Aotearoa
In New Zealand and globally, women perform a significant amount of unpaid, underpaid, and under-recognised labour, including service work, domestic work, and childcare. This division of labour by gender forms the basis for patriarchy, where men’s social, political, and economic status is elevated above women, and the relationship between men and women, including working class men and women, becomes one of exploitation.
Patriarchy is a flexible system, constantly shifting as conditions change. Patriarchal relations as we know them did not exist prior to colonisation and the development of capitalism in New Zealand. Different genders did generally perform different kinds of work, but this work was socially valued, regardless of who was performing it, and women were not bound to performing feminised labour in the way they are today. Colonisation brought with it a system of patriarchy, and Māori women suffered a significant loss of economic, political, and social power, the effects of which we see today.
During the time of Keynesian social democracy in New Zealand, patriarchy was primarily organised through a breadwinner model, where women and children were financially dependent on their father, who received higher wages for his labour. Full employment, strong trade unions, and welfare policies allowed for an economy where one working man’s wage was enough to support a family. Economic dependence kept women trapped in often unhappy marriages, and there was an ideological superstructure that took the form of social stigma attached to unmarried women, queer women, and women who left their husbands. The law allowed for husbands to hold power over their families with impunity. Marital rape was only outlawed in 1985, and a culture of victim-blaming for rape and domestic violence forms the ideological superstructure for “keeping women in their place” – economically dependent on their husbands.
This was not a universal model. Women have been working all throughout New Zealand’s capitalist history on lower wages than men, though many were expected to leave their jobs once they were married. It was however, the ideal model. A woman’s ideal place was as a wife and mother, and this is what women were conditioned to “aspire” to. Now, we have new hegemonic femininities, which creates a more complicated situation. Women are everywhere in the workforce now. A new ideal of the independent career woman who is in control of her sexuality, her finances, and her life has emerged – the woman who can “have it all”. This is a liberal feminist ideal, and it excludes just as many women, if not more, as the conservative ideal of the wife and mother. Most working class women today can be neither of these things. We must work to survive, but we are certainly not independent or empowered in our workplaces or relationships.
Global feminist and revolutionary movements have played a significant role in winning women rights and privileges that many today take for granted, especially in western countries, but patriarchy has not disappeared. It has simply reorganised itself under the new neoliberal paradigm. Divorce, homosexuality, and single parenthood has less stigma attached to it, but one working person’s wage is no longer enough to sustain a family. The loss of worker’s power instigated by the Fourth Labour Government has created a new family model in which intimate partners become economically dependent on each other in order to survive, and keep their children fed and clothed. The gender pay gap has been eliminated on paper, with the Human Rights Act outlawing employment discrimination based on gender, but in practice, it still exists. Women are less likely to be promoted, and are more likely to work in underpaid, undervalued industries such as care work and hospitality.
A culture of workplace bullying and sexual harassment is so normalised that it’s expected for anyone working in hospitality, as well as other industries. In service work, such as retail and hospitality, you are not only selling a product; you are also representing a company which is in competition with other companies, so it’s expected that you provide your customers with a good experience, otherwise there is a real risk they will withdraw their patronage and go somewhere else. The mantra “the customer comes first” directly comes from the competitive nature of capitalism, and creates a power imbalance between workers and clients or customers, which clients or customers may exploit. Service workers not only sell products, goods, or services, but their emotional labour as well, managing their presentation, mood, and emotions often under stress and in workplace conditions which are not conducive to a positive emotional state, to ensure that their customers are happy. Fail to do so and you face consequences from the bosses and management.
While workplace bullying and sexual harassment is rife in hospitality, no industry is free from this culture. Even among trade union staff, who are tasked with advocating for and protecting worker’s rights, there is a widespread culture of misogyny. Misogyny is everywhere. It shapes every workplace, and must be actively fought against in every industry – especially in the union movement, whose job it should be to promote and model a healthy, positive workplace culture and workplace relations.
Most unpaid reproductive labour continues to be performed by women, who take on a “second shift” in the household. Women are overrepresented in work that involves a duty of care to others, often drawn to these roles out of genuine empathy and idealism. These better qualities are used against us by employers, to coerce nurses and care workers to work longer hours because if they don’t, it’s the patients who suffer. The kind hearts of care workers and health workers becomes an instrument for employers to exercise control, understaffing their workplaces and underpaying their workers. The same tactics used by violent and controlling partners, leveraging the wellbeing of children and pets to manipulate their partners into staying with them.
The fight for workers’ liberation is intimately tied to the fight for women’s liberation. A socialist programme would seek to untangle the economic dependence of women to men, would raise the value put on feminised labour, and remove the sole burden of childcare.
- NZ Air Line Pilots Assn IUOW v Air NZ, 1992, 1 ERNZ 353
- Rudman, Richard. New Zealand Employment Law Guide (2006)
- Rudman, Richard. New Zealand Employment Law Guide (2006)
- Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini. Ours to Master and to Own: Workers Control from the Commune to the Present. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2011.
- Dario Azzellini. An Alternative Labour History: Worker Control and Workplace Democracy. London: Zed Books, 2015