1968 in Aotearoa


A New Left made new media, such as the radical journal Red Spark from students at Victoria University.

It is fifty years since the world was shaken by events of 1968 such as: world-wide student demonstrations; a general strike in France; the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; liberalisation, and its crushing, in Czechoslovakia; the assassination of Martin Luther King and the iconic Black Power salutes by Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the Olympic Games. Against this global context New Zealand history can seem unassuming. But 1968 reverberated here, and the rebellions of that year spurred a decade of resistance: movements of newly-urbanised Māori; the Women’s Liberation Movement; anti-racist campaigning against apartheid; and, energising all of these, the biggest upsurge in strikes in the country’s history.

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Labour sells out workers’ rights


Striking Manawatū workers show the spirit we need. Labour is watering down its commitments to workplace rights.

While the Ardern government has delivered tangible reforms in favour of ordinary people, a good part of the promised or announced reform programme has not been put into effect. It’s either delay – the subject area has been farmed out to a working group – or the reform entails legislation that has not yet gone through the parliamentary process.


Both theory and history tell us that reformist parties like the Labour Party cannot be trusted. As the reformists believe in working within the capitalist system, reforms are conditional on what the system “allows”. Incoming reformist administrations quickly lose their initial radicalism as the weight of bourgeois opinion, particularly of business people, bears down on every progressive proposal. The reformists begin to backslide on, or altogether abandon, electoral promises to the working class.

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Politics at Pride, not police!

5283ca016a3cf5731f8338cda26d37e3By Emma Mud and Josh Sims

Pride is political again! All wings of the LGBTQ community seem to be in agreement on that. Calls to put debates to one side and delegate decisions to a “board” or to common sense are gone, replaced with hui in which the issue of cops at our parade can be discussed in lively detail. Not all is perfect. Far from it; one Māori woman prominent in PAPA was spat on by a member of the pro-police contingent, a frightening reminder of just how close behind civil debate outright violence can be. But we should take heart! Whereas three years ago it was lamented that protests lead by NPIP (now PAPA) were making Pride political, now our relationship to the police is opened up as a topic for acknowledged debate. People have to pick sides. Spiralling out of these arguments come questions regarding the nature of both corporations and the military.


Capitalist power isn’t facing the guillotine yet, but court is in session. What then, is the prosecution saying?
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United NZEI and PPTA Action Can Win

downloadJames Crichton, chief of the Employment Relations Authority, says our claim is unrealistic. What rubbish! Our teachers’ claim of 16 percent over two years is fully justified to make a teaching career an attractive option. Crichton knows nothing of the reality of being a teacher in an under-funded system – always under stress, never having enough time, working long hours.


The offer of 3 percent for 3 years does not even guarantee a real pay rise if CPI keeps on rising. The latest annual rate of inflation is 1.9 percent, having risen from 1.1 percent in March and 1.5 percent in June. At this rate, by the end of the year CPI could easily be well over 2 percent. Who is to say what could happen over 3 years?


School education needs a transformational funding boost. Labour says it will take time. We can’t wait years. Children and teachers deserve better right now.

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Paris, 1968: 50 years since the barricades

Paris-May-1968By Jules Courtine


May 1968 is the date of the largest general strike in French history. Over the course of this month, 11 million workers joined a protest which was explicitly anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and revolutionary. As a result of the strike national production came to a grinding halt, conservative president Charles de Gaulle fled the country and a snap election had to be called in order to restore the status quo. Although it did not achieve its revolutionary objectives, May 68 shows how powerful workers and students can be when they join forces against capitalism.

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The strike revival

Strike statistics are useful for assessing the state of workers’ militancy. Fortunately section 98 of the Employment Relations Act requires information to be submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) after every strike or lockout. This source provides statistics up to and including 2017. For this year, so far, we must rely on media reports. In the last issue of Socialist Review we cited several strikes and gave our assessment that we are witnessing a revival in class struggle. We now provide more in-depth information.


Table 1 shows the decline in industrial action since 2005, in which year there were 60 work stoppages involving 17,752 workers. From 2013 to 2017 the New Zealand working class hit rock bottom. In 2016 there were two strikes and one partial strike involving a total of just 430 workers. A partial strike is defined by law as any industrial action short of an actual strike. 2017 was hardly better with 6 full strikes by a total of a mere 421 employees.

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New Perspectives for Rebuilding Union Power

frontcover-f_medium-2fb8dd7e1e725035417e691ea490dc17On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War

By Kim Moody (Haymarket Books, Chicago 2017)


Reviewed by Dougal McNeill


Is there a revival of working-class confidence happening in Aotearoa? The PPTA and NZEI are going into bargaining with big pay claims (e.g. 16 percent over two years for primary teachers) and health workers went on strike for the first time in decades. The NZEI went on strike in winter, and will have rolling strikes in term four. So far this year there has been action by bus drivers, at Event Cinemas, Wendys, Auckland trains, Lyttleton port, Burger King, Blue Star Group printers and Silver Fern Farms. Wellington bus drivers begin an indefinite strike in late October. Their brothers and sisters in Auckland will follow.


This revival takes place, however, in a context of ongoing crisis for our movement. Membership has fallen massively. In 1985 almost half of the workforce was in unions but, by the 2010s, less than 9% of those in the private sector are members. We lost some 320,000 members through the 1990s, as the Employment Contracts Act made it difficult to organise and easier for bosses to attack. Workers’ confidence to fight has slipped. There were 381,710 days ‘lost’ to strikes in 1988; by 2014 that number had slumped to just 1,448. The benefits of union membership are concentrated in the public sector, and union members are older than the working population generally.


What explains this decline? Many commentators argue that the nature of work has changed over the last thirty years, making union power less relevant. We have seen the rise of a “precariat”, Guy Standing claims, drifting in insecure jobs with little to gain from unionism. Others look for new ways of building – the ‘organising model’ – that use community support and savvy media campaigning to work around our workplace weaknesses. Helen Kelly pioneered imaginative campaigning like this, and the Living Wage movement has won victories with similar approaches. There’s much here to support, but it still avoids, rather than confronts, the key question: without union power, the power of the strike, what future will our movement have?

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


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.

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Wellington: back the bus drivers!


National and Simon Bridges started the bus mess – but Chris Laidlaw and the GWRC need to fix it. They cannot wash their hands of the union’s just demands.

Hundreds of Wellington region bus drivers in the Tramways Union have voted for an ongoing strike from 23 October. Three bus companies that operate in the region may be affected: NZ Bus, Tranzit and Uzabus. Since the regional council awarded a large chunk of routes to Tranzit, drivers have lost their jobs or work under far worse terms and conditions. Tranzit has refused to negotiate a collective agreement with the Union.


Wellington’s bus services have been in chaos for months since new schedules were implemented. Greater Wellington Regional Council is responsible for bus services, parcelled out to five companies, and the suburban rail network. There is no ticketing integration overall, or even between all bus companies.


The reason for this mess is the contracting-out system. Wellington’s electric trolley bus network was scrapped last year in favour of polluting diesel buses purely to facilitate competition. Contracts were awarded to the companies that bid the lowest, and they seek to make their profit at the expense of drivers’ conditions and passenger services. On every count the use of the free market to run publicly-funded services has proven to be a failure.


It is not only Wellington where bus drivers have come to the end of their tethers. Throughout the year bus drivers in Auckland and the Waikato have taken strike action against intolerable conditions.

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Rebel Lives: Clara Zetkin

220px-C_Zetkin_1By Martin Gregory


A federal election in Germany was held on 31 July 1932 in the depths of the Great Depression and a political crisis. The Nazis obtained the largest share of the vote and 230 seats in the 608-seat Reichstag. On 30 August the oldest member had the honour of opening the session of the newly-elected parliament. The 75 years old Clara Zetkin, the re-elected Communist member for Stuttgart, was whisked from her Moscow sickbed to Berlin. The frail “grandmother of German communism” was carried on a chair into the Reichstag by a back way while the Nazis staged a demonstration at the front. Zetkin addressed the Reichstag brilliantly. She attacked capitalism and proposed a strategy to fight the immediate danger of fascism:


The task of the hour is to establish the united front of all working people in order to repel Fascism, in order thereby to preserve the power and strength of the organisations of the enslaved and exploited, and even to save their very lives. All restrictive and divisive, trade-union, religious and ideological outlooks have to take a back seat before this urgent historical necessity. All of those who are threatened, who are suffering, who crave emancipation: all must join the united front against fascism and its representatives in the Government.

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