Labour wins Mt Roskill – what next?

Michael Wood, The Labour Party Candidate has swept the floor in the local Mt Roskill By-election to replace Phill Goff as the new MP for Mt Roskill. His main opponent the National Party’s Parmjeet Parmar trailed behind with a lower percentage of votes than her previous run against Phil Goff in 2014. Michael Wood received 11,170 votes compared to Parmar’s 4652, though as with most by-elections the turnout was much lower than the 2014 election (37% of registered voters voted compared to 73% in 2014.)

Michael Wood is not a name known to most of us before this election. But, though he might seem a newcomer, Wood has a history in Mt Roskill, and in the Labour party: as Phil Goff’s Campaign Manager, as part of the Labour Party Policy Council and involved in other community boards for 12 years. This means what we hear from him is likely to be repeated ad infinitum for the forthcoming election year. He ran on policies for affordable housing, fixing up HNZ homes, pledged investment in public transport and in more police on the streets.  So Wood’s campaign was contradictory. On housing he pushed to the left, clearly campaigning to what’s left of Mt Roskill’s historic working-class communities, and with none of the xenophobic Labour’s been dishing out recently. But then he followed this up with calls for more police on the streets – a petty-bourgeois demand aimed at the electorate’s small business owners, and followed the party’s hopeless plans to follow the same conservative beat as National.

The demands for more cops on the streets was clearing preaching to mostly small business owners – which to be fair are the last of the lower economic strata of society that can still afford to live in Mt Roskill. One major noted absence from Michael Wood’s campaign was the xenophobia around housing and immigration that we have seen building up in all of the political parties in parliament. This doesn’t mean this won’t reappear – but Mt Roskill has a large migrant community and for Michael to bring these up would have been the death knell for his campaign.

Parmjeet Parmar on the other hand presented herself as the representative of that migrant community. Her reputation preceded her, however, on every front. The fiasco of the immanent deportation of the Indian students scammed out of their education weighed heavily on this by-election. These students should be applauded for their fight and their willingness to not go quietly – what happened to them, while not uncommon, is abhorrent – and is perpetrated by the rich in order to extort money out of immigrant students and then ship them back home once they and their families have been bled dry.

The first protest I went to in support of these 150 Indian students was outside Parmjeet Parmar’s public meeting with Bill English held in Lynfield Community Hall in August. This was supposed to be a meet and greet with the community, although locked doors and police armed with Tasers prevented the poorer half of the community from attending and being able to ask Parmjeet why she refused to listen to them. Instead inside the hall she listened intently to the concerns and interests of the owners of the International Academy of New Zealand, the school who just months previously had their students retested by NZQA because it did not trust the standards that had been set by IANZ. Some of the students facing deportation went to that school, but there are many others in operation in Auckland and around the country. The injustice of blaming the students for the falsified documents provided by the New Zealand agent based in New Delhi racked the community and showed the split down the class lines in Mt Roskill in the election.

Parmjeet called these students, at a recent rally last week, “criminals”. What crime did they commit? They are being blamed for other people who have already been named prior to this scandal for falsifying documents. Parmjeet Parmar’s campaign was run under the typical guise of the National Party, promising support for developers against the RMA and other lines that come straight from the National Party’s PR manager. Having heard her speeches, I think it would hard to find a less charismatic speaker to campaign for an election. Indeed there wasn’t a lot of public support from the National Party MPs outside of Bill English and John Key. Though redistricting in Mt Roskill in 2015 heavily favoured the National Party, this really was Michael Wood’s campaign to lose.

Now that Wood has won, there is one demand that he must support in order to represent his constituency and that is to prevent the unjust deportations of the 150 Indian students being punished for the actions of an industry seeking to profit off the misery of international students.

The real question then falls down to what should we expect next year in the build up to the election? All of the political parties seem to be chomping at the bit to blame the problems of New Zealand on immigrants and not the real culprits – the bosses. We shouldn’t expect Labour to campaign for something that would really affect people’s lives such as – healthcare and education funding, lowering of GST tax, increasing minimum wage, stopping precarious employment, and introducing a capital gains tax to prevent rich capitalists making a ludicrous profit out of homes. None of these solutions are being presented, and yet throughout our society that is what is being called for. The healthcare system is falling apart: two years ago it had a $500 million shortfall and has been suffering from funding freezes for years. The doctors and nurses have had enough. The school system is in disrepair with a funding freeze for the last 6 years. The list goes on.

Migrants aren’t the ones underfunding our society, stealing jobs and not paying tax – that’s the bosses. The capitalists in New Zealand are the ones who can avoid taxes through trust laws; it is they who fire workers to replace them with cheaper labour that can be more easily exploited because they are separated from their support networks; it is they who push for what they think are the most important issues in a political campaign are, like changes to the RMA or continuing business as usual in the face of climate change. That goes for all parliamentary parties. They all seek to represent the interests of capital.

But this by-election shows something. All of the hype of a National upset came to nothing. And, when Wood campaigned around questions like housing he got a hearing. What happens next for the Indian students, for migrants, and for the working class more generally, will be decided in our workplaces and in the streets.