by Jared Philips
An alternative direction: Why ordinary people need a new party
By Jared Phillips
Governments and big business interests all over the world have sought to make ordinary people pay the price for economic crisis. In Aotearoa / New Zealand the National Party has carried out cuts and counter-reforms in almost every area. Labour and the Greens sometimes differ with National on social issues, but neither stands for an alternative economic direction or program.
The workers’ and social movements need to develop such a political alternative in order to shift the ever-increasing burdens of the system off ordinary people.
We need a new workers party because there is an ongoing crisis of political representation. This crisis is not specific to Aotearoa / New Zealand. It is an international crisis that has resulted from the collapse, and shifts to the right, of the traditional social democratic and communist parties.
The political vacuum in New Zealand is substantial. Labour traditionally represented a sizeable section of the working class. Today that relationship has diminished and now it is really just a relationship between some heads of the Labour Party and some heads of the union movement.
The Communist Party of New Zealand, and later the Socialist Unity Party, led and had some influence amongst militant sections of the workers movement for a substantial period. The collapse of Stalinism however opened the way for the collapse of those parties and for the social democratic parties to shift to the right. Subsequently a ruthless capitalist agenda was implemented. The working class desperately needs to create its own political representation so it can push back.
Prospects for a new workers party
A powerful party could be built in Aotearoa if the organisations that stand for the rights of workers and the poor were to unite as a political force. This could include organisations such as trade unions, beneficiary groups, socialist organisations, environmental groups, migrant organisations and local community and residents groups.
On the basis of a program that challenged cuts, privatisations and job losses, such a force would be able to make serious advances and confront the attacks on our living conditions and the environment.
Unions would add a huge amount of social weight and could play a key role in establishing this kind of formation. With their combined membership unions are the largest membership organisations in society. They are the organisational vehicles which are best placed to directly challenge the offensive on living standards that is being waged by the government and big employers.
Unions which are not affiliated to the Labour Party, such as FIRST Union and Unite Union, could conceivably provide a strong starting point for such a party. The problem is that most other unions are to varying degrees wedded to the Labour Party. Labour is not committed to a programme of rolling back cuts, rolling back privatisation or implementing employment legislation that will promote union struggle.
We argue that members in these unions should campaign for them to break with Labour. Currently member’s money is being wasted propping up a party that when in power carries out an agenda which has no fundamental difference to National’s agenda.
Other organisations that could play a key role
Since its inception in 2011 the MANA movement has led the way on issues which affect ordinary people and the poor including housing, asset sales, child poverty and some industrial disputes. Most people view the MANA movement as a progressive force that seeks to address working class issues particularly amongst Maori. In our view MANA must maintain that stance and avoid alliances with any pro-business and pro-wealthy forces.
MANA could potentially play a substantial role in helping to gather the forces necessary for a broader formation that brings together working class people from all backgrounds.
Other layers of oppressed people including the unemployed and anti poverty organisations could also play a crucial role. A new workers party would also seek to include genuine environmental groups and argue for sustainable economic planning. This would help cut across big business attempts to drive a wedge between workers and environmentalists.
What type of political program?
To establish a new workers party there would need to be agreement on a basic program that is genuinely against cuts and privatisations. The program would need to be pro-worker and defend welfare rights, the public sector, the environment, and so forth.
Initially the program of a new party would not necessarily be socialist but a general program in the interests of ordinary people and the environment could be a starting point to gather broad forces around. In our view questions would very quickly come up in relation to how to pay for reforms, how to plan effectively and how to lock in gains for the long term. The truth is that people would only be able to address these issues by moving in a socialist direction.
The way out of the perpetual injustices of the profit driven system is through establishing a socialist system of collective ownership with democratic control and planning. Ultimately to win this change we need a mass revolutionary party. But the path to building such an organisation will take many twists and turns. We need to understand the general outlook of the mass of people now and proceed from there.
On the one hand we need to build a clear socialist trend in the movement but at the same time we can not ignore the fact that our basic organisations have seen a general decline and need to be rebuilt.
The existing left
Some leftists often put forward the idea that the different socialist groupings should just put aside their differences and come together. This they argue could be the starting point for a new formation. However the main problem for socialist organisations in Aotearoa is not that they are divided from each other; it is that they are divided from the mass of the working class.
Uniting the far left in the abstract is no solution. We need to find ways to connect with people and sections of the working class which are outside of any organisation at the moment but can be drawn into struggle. A new workers party would be attractive to those types of people and create a forum for all the different trends in the workers movement to debate and discuss.
A giant step forward
Establishing a new workers party would be a giant step forward for working class interests and would be a step forward on the road to achieving long lasting social change. While not immediately on the agenda now in Aotearoa it is an idea that will inevitably become more popular especially as the major parties continue to carry out attacks on our living conditions.
The idea of a new workers party will make more sense as class struggle develops and people see the pressing need for political representation. However it is crucial that we begin the debate now and put forward the idea of a new workers party so that we are able to make a start when opportunities arise.