The working class is under attack, and make no mistake.
The new National government is set to pass the Employment Relations Amendment Bill into law within its first hundred days. This Bill was held up in that last parliament by a union campaign of submissions that delayed progress long enough for the government to lose its majority when John Banks resigned in disgrace. With National having an absolute majority in the new parliament there is no stopping them now. The new law is a nasty assault on unionism and workers’ pay and conditions. For a useful rundown of the amendments see this article from National Radio.
Before election night was out right-wing pundits like Matthew Hooton had their knives out for David Cunliffe and Labour’s left-wing policies. Over the subsequent days the bourgeois media have whipped themselves up into a furious campaign to push the Labour Party to the right.
Gutting Labour of reformist policies and breaking it links to unions is the ruling employer class’ most cherished aim. If they succeed the working class will be set back hugely.
Already snakes from the right in the Labour Party have enjoined the attack on left-leaning Cunliffe. The parliamentary caucus is dominated by the right. Cunliffe never had their support, but he bought an uneasy peace by handing the finance portfolio to David Parker. Consequently, Labour’s election campaign was timid in this crucial area. It is peace no longer. In a reputed 7-hour caucus meeting the right-wing have used their majority to depose left-winger Sue Moroney as Chief Whip and install Chris Hipkins, who is a known Cunliffe critic.
The right have a problem: Labour Party members and affiliated unions. Under Labour’s rules the leader is elected by an electoral college in which the party members have 40% of the vote, unions have 20% and the MPs 40%. Cunliffe was elected on left-wing support from member and unions. His preference is to have a leadership contest soon, before the year is out. The right-wing want to delay so that they can organise themselves and work in tandem with the capitalist media to discredit Cunliffe with months of hostile reporting in an effort to whittle down his support-base.
Cunliffe himself cannot be trusted not to backslide on policy. The unions and ordinary labour members must keep up the pressure on him to face-down the parliamentary caucus majority.
The debate over the future of Labour will not be confined to party members and affiliated unions. It is a debate that will take place widely within the working class and student body. The battle lines are clear. This is a debate that socialists must take up. We are able to articulate arguments against a right turn by Labour that will strike a chord with thinking workers and politically conscious students.