Labour’s Housing Policy: What does it mean for Porirua?

By Martin Gregory

 

 

It did not take long for Labour’s flagship KiwiBuild housing policy to come to grief; and if ever there was a minister likely to embarrass the Ardern government it was that rightwinger Phil Twyford. It was he who in 2015 infamously blamed Chinese for Auckland’s high house prices. The failure to get anywhere near Labour’s target of 10,000 KiwiBuild houses a year for ten years forced Ardern to execute a ministerial reshuffle in June. Twyford was dropped as housing minister and demoted to minister for urban development answerable to new housing minister Megan Woods. Kris Faafoi picked up responsibility for public housing, also answerable to Woods. On 4 September Woods announced the abandonment of KiwiBuild targets altogether.

 

Nevertheless, the toned-down KiwiBuild remains the government’s central housing policy. Under KiwiBuild private developers do the building and the profit making, underwritten by public money. All that the developers are required to do is to include some “affordable” units in their developments. The meaning of affordable price has been ridiculously stretched to mean up to $650,000 in Auckland and Queenstown, $550,000 in Wellington and $500,000 elsewhere. These capped-price units are reserved for qualifying buyers. The whole scheme is predicated on the private development industry and private ownership being the solution to the housing crisis. What has held back the construction of KiwiBuild units so far is the developers holding out for super-profits. In addition to guaranteeing the sale of KiwiBuild units, the industry wants the government to provide easy-to-develop land, to pick up the tab for infrastructure costs and to be allowed higher density under relaxed consenting conditions.

 

KiwiBuild has nothing to offer low-income working class people. What is really needed is a programme of building state housing. There is a massive demand for state homes to get people out of the clutches of private landlords or out of overcrowded homes and into independent living. As of June there were 12,311 applications for state homes on the Housing Register. Only the state, or local council, can be made accountable through the democratic process, especially when well-organised tenants associations bring pressure to bear on elected politicians. At its best, state housing can provide secure high-quality homes at a low rent. It spares tenants the costs of repairs, updates, rates and insurance. Through the transfer system state housing can be flexible to meet the needs of growing or shrinking families.

[Read more…]

Teachers’ Strikes: a win, and the coming challenge

(Image credit: Brett Phibbs, NZ Herald)

By Shomi Yoon

Strikes work. That’s the lesson of the teachers’ industrial action in May and earlier. Chris Hipkins said there was no more money. Within days of the teachers’ action – a massive rallying of primary and secondary striking together – an additional $271 million were somehow discovered. Teachers went on strike not just for their own pay, but for public education generally. There is a crisis in New Zealand schools, with short staffing, turnover, and teachers leaving the profession. That affects us all. The strikes raised these important issues.

So the members of secondary teachers’ union PPTA and primary teachers’ union NZEI  should feel great pride in their unity and power.  We brought education to the centre of the debate, and  we won an important, if partial victory.

But it’s a bittersweet win, and many were looking for more. Only 65% of PPTA members voted to accept the government’s offer; the margin was, as the Dominion Post put it ‘slim’. Many were prepared to take the fight further. This offer presents a significant increase in some teachers’ pay of 15 – 18 %. But it is a stop-gap measure at best. It will not fix the present crisis.

At the heart of the teachers’ campaign was not just money or time but a crisis. Too few people are training as teachers, and too many teachers leave within the first five years of teaching. The average age of a primary teacher is 55 years old. In secondary schools, the crisis is evident as non-specialist teachers attempt to teach specialist classes to cover gaps. Some 40-50% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Retention is a significant issue in the aging profession. The offer does not solve – or begin to solve – these real problems, problems that motivated teachers to strike in the first place.

An additional $271 million will be put towards teachers’ pay, and the offer restored pay parity for primary teachers – a guarantee of the same basic pay as secondary teachers. The offer also lifts the pay for an experienced teacher from $78,000 to $90,000. [Read more…]

Why is Labour starving NZ Post?

1544652765193By Andrew Tait and Martin Gregory

 

New Zealand Post has raised the cost of sending a letter, again – to $1.30 from July. Last year, they increased the postage from $1.00 to $1.20. In July 2016 it went up from 80 cents. They are raising prices, they say, because of the drop in volume.

[Read more…]

Beating Budget Responsibility Rules Restraint

eight_col_20190129_083605

Resident doctors striking outside Wellington Hospital, with solidarity from NZNO members, February 2019.

By Martin Gregory

 

Public health and public education, for countries that have them, make the two great calls on government expenditures, and for that reason they are at the core of the central contradiction in the character of the Ardern government. The boost in spending on these services that Labour seemed to offer in 2017 is confounded by the Budget Responsibility Rules policy that the Labour and Green parties concocted, carried through into government and have since held as an article of faith. The effect of the Rules, broadly, is that government spending is kept within the parameters inherited from the former National government. Government expenditure is pegged as a proportion of GDP and paying down government debt is prioritised over spending. The Budget Responsibility Rules are a declaration of Labour’s fealty to capitalism. As a result of spending restraint, health and education have been the flashpoints of much of the industrial action by expectant, but frustrated, workers that occurred last year and continues this year unabated.

[Read more…]

Reform and Reaction in Australia: The Story of the Whitlam Labor Government

dc7a3d156a6915b0de5757f7f582cfc4

Whitlam addresses protesting supporters in Canberra following the dismissal

By Cory Anderson

 

The Australian government of 1972-75 stands out as one of the most successful reforming governments in history, comparable perhaps to the first Labour government here in Aotearoa or Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ in the United States. Led by Gough Whitlam, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) introduced significant reforms, including free tertiary education, increased pensions and healthcare funding, brought troops home from Vietnam and ended the racist ‘White Australia’ policy. Part-way through its second term however, it was thrown out by the Governor-General and the Liberal Party in what can only be called a legal coup.

 

Immediately after entering office, the Whitlam government set about business. They ended the draft after just 30 minutes in government, intervened to support equal pay for women, dropped sales tax on contraceptives, banned sports teams from apartheid South Africa and took steps to support Aboriginal land rights and culture.

 

But in spite of heading perhaps the most progressive Labor government in Australia’s history, Gough Whitlam came not from the left but the right-wing of the ALP. He cut his teeth campaigning for “modernisation” of the party and a reduction in the influence of unions. He wanted a more respectable, middle-class party with a media friendly image: more suits and less socialism. Under his leadership the party tacked to the right on Vietnam and he intervened to remove the left-wing leadership of the ALP’s Victorian branch.

[Read more…]

The Budget: a socialist response

budget 2018“Budget 2018 sets out the first steps in a plan for transformation.” That’s how Grant Robertson introduced Labour’s first Budget. Hopes for transformation brought Labour, the Greens and NZ First into government last year. A glance around at the inequality, underfunding and social suffering that have become normalised after nine years of National shows how much needs to be transformed. There is a $2.7 billion gap in health funding between 2010 levels and now, according to Council of Trade Unions research. About one in eight children live in poverty. Workers have faced years of stagnant wages, and students have seen cuts to allowance eligibility and caps to the number of years they can receive a loan. The Salvation Army describes poverty levels as “critical”, with almost 40% of families facing food insecurity. Unemployed workers on benefits face the punitive and demeaning culture of WINZ, while families with at least one member in full-time employment make up about 40% of those in poverty. This is the background to Budget 2018, and to the kind of transformations needed by workers, students, and the poor.

 

Labour campaigned on a series of reforms that, since they won office, have seen their popularity increase: removing fees on the first year of tertiary study; an increase in the minimum wage; a healthy homes guarantee; a winter energy package for retired workers; extension to paid parental leave. These are all reforms socialists should support, but they are just a small fraction of the range of measures needed to address the scale of the problems working people face.

[Read more…]

Labour must turn left to win support

by Martin Gregory

Andrew Little

All is the fear and nothing is the love;
As Little is the wisdom, where the flight
So runs against all reason

The Labour and Green alliance could win September’s general election outright, without being held to ransom by Winston Peters. This statement defies the conventional wisdom of commentators, who are fixated by opinion polling that has Labour on around 30% of the vote. Unlike dialectical Marxists, the commentators struggle to grasp that stasis can give way to rapid change. On these polls, Labour’s support has edged up by 5 percentage points since the 2014 disaster. It is quite within the realms of possibility that between now and 23 September Labour could climb by a further 10 percentage points to reach 40 percent and the Greens to hold on to over 10 percent. [Read more…]

Blame the bosses – not migrants!

eight_col_20160903_122651_resized

Indian students fight deportation in Auckland. Migrant workers are part of the struggle – not victims to be pitied.

by Dougal McNeill

So this month saw the end of Planet Key. Bill English’s ascension gives us an opportunity to survey political possibilities for our movement. There is plenty for workers to feel angry about, and plenty about which the Government has nothing but the feeble excuses. From the housing situation in Auckland to the recent embarrassing back down in the face of union opposition to further education ‘reforms’, the last year has not gone all the government’s way. What has been missing, as usual, is any sort of concentrated opposition. There is the grounds to organise a credible opposition to National – just look at the inequality, poverty, and job insecurity that is the norm in New Zealand at the moment. But, shamefully, Labour have decided to pursue an anti-immigrant line. This is not helping them electorally, with September registering some of the worst poll results for Labour in a long time, and, more dangerously, it threatens to pull the whole 2017 election in a racist direction. This will be a disaster for working people. Instead of rejecting Labour’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, too many leaders in the trade union movement have accepted its logic.

 

Immigrants are not to blame for workers’ problems, and that we need to focus our political fire where it belongs – at the capitalist class and the National government.

[Read more…]

The origins of the Labour Party

The Waihi Strike set the scene for Labour

The defeat of the Waihi Strike set the scene for Labour

By Martin Gregory

 

I might state that the museum up on the hill known as Parliament House has little attraction for me but if that machine can be used to benefit the working man and foster industrial organisation, I am in favour of it.

W E Parry, January 1913,President of the Waihi Worker’s Union 1909-1912, Minister of Internal Affairs 1935-1949

 

The party named the New Zealand Labour Party came into being at a meeting on 7 July 1916. This event was little more than a name change of the Social Democratic Party, whose annual conference began the day before. In May the SDP National Executive had recommended the change and to invite the right-wing remnants in the Labour Representation Committees, who had hitherto remained outside the SDP, to join. Eleven out of thirteen of the first Labour Party Executive, and the top officers, were SDP members. The Labour Party formally came into being in 1916, but its real political origins, as the SDP, go back to events of 1912 and 1913. [Read more…]

Corbyn, Shearer, and Campaigning Against Austerity

by Cory Anderson

Corbyn's first act after winning was to join a rally supporting refugees

Corbyn’s first act after winning was to join a rally supporting refugees

The left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn was catapulted to leadership of the British Labour Party over the weekend, winning 59.9% of the vote after starting the race as a 100/1 outsider.  Corbyn’s anti-austerity campaign has challenged the Blairite establishment founded on copying and extending the pro-business, neoliberal policies of Thatcher and the Tories.  The waves have been felt far afield, even here.

Corybn’s win has sent shock waves through the British establishment. This isn’t how politics is supposed to work. He’s appealing to working people’s opposition to austerity; he is a known extra-parliamentary activist and campaigner and drew on social movements and the exciting sense that an alternative to pro-business politics exists; and he’s connecting. He wiped out the Blairites in Labour’s race. No wonder the knives are out for him in the newspapers – from the Guardian to the Times – as well as, no doubt, in the corridors of power, the bureaucracy and the Labour machine. Corbyn faces the fight of his life.

[Read more…]