James Shaw

Can Labour Really Govern For All?

Can Labour Really Govern For All?

By Elliot Crossan

“We will be a party that governs for every New Zealander!”

This was Jacinda Ardern’s triumphant declaration on the night she was reelected Prime Minister, with a landslide so huge that she has become New Zealand’s first leader to win an outright majority under our proportional representation system, whilst Labour became the first party to win over 50% of the vote since 1951 — the first time Labour themselves have done so since 1946. It was certainly a night to celebrate for Ardern and her supporters.

She has been well rewarded for her swift and decisive leadership in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, and working class New Zealanders are justifiably proud that we came together, as few other countries have, and successfully stopped the spread of the virus within our island nation.

The vote share won by the centre-left bloc (Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party) in the 2020 general election is unprecedented since Aotearoa introduced MMP in 1996. Data from the Electoral Commission.

This election result stands in stark contrast to the chaos unfurling in the United States, where racist right-wing President Donald Trump has failed utterly to deal with the virus, instead prioritising the needs of the economy over people’s lives while encouraging anti-lockdown and anti-mask sentiments amongst his fanatical supporters. Nearly a quarter of a million Americans have died, and the closeness of the election result indicates both a more polarised nation than at any time since the 1960s, and a complete failure by the corporate-backed Democratic elite to resist Trumpism.

But with historic levels of support among both workers and the middle class, can Ardern truly live up to her stated ambition of “governing for all”?

A Question of Class

The Covid-19 crisis was a fairly unique issue on which the medium-to-long-term interests of the capitalist class aligned with the short-term interests of the workers. Some of the business community did prefer the right-wing response of trying to keep the economy as “open” as possible, as advocated by National Party leader at the time Simon Bridges, and as seen in countries such as the US, UK and Ireland, which have conservative governments and have been ravaged by the virus as a result. However, Ardern’s approach, summarised in the slogan “go hard, go early, stamp it out,” was actually the most intelligent and effective strategy for properly reopening the economy and returning to “normal” as quickly as possible — and, crucially, not having to then retreat again six months later. Smarter business leaders saw what Ardern was attempting to do and supported her, and are now being rewarded by a much less harsh economic crisis than other OECD countries are experiencing.

However, the Covid-19 crisis also created other issues of contention where Labour had to make snap decisions on the basis of class. Ardern and her Finance Minister Grant Robertson — now elevated to the position of Deputy Prime Minister thanks to the crushing defeat of Labour’s former coalition partner, racist minor party New Zealand First, who can no longer be used as Ardern’s excuse for inaction on social issues — acted immediately to pour billions of dollars into propping up business during the lockdown period.

Grant Robertson, long-term friend and ally of Jacinda Ardern, is now in the powerful position of being both Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

The government also initiated a six month “mortgage holiday” for homeowners affected by the crisis — a welcome move for the middle class and for older and better-off sections of the working class, to be sure. But all the help there was for the ever-growing number of New Zealand households who rent their homes — which in the last thirty years has grown to more than a third of the population — was a cap on increases in rent between March and September. Where was the payment holiday for the hundreds of thousands of renters, who are far more likely to be in severe financial stress thanks to the lockdown and the recession?

These decisions were merely a continuation of Labour’s abject failure to deal with the housing crisis. The government built just 2,726 state houses between June 2018 and March 2020, despite the country having over 40,000 people homeless. A rent freeze lasting years could have alleviated some of the pressure on the workers struggling week in, week out to keep up with the demands of their landlords. However, it was those landlords who Labour chose to back, rather than renters.

Meanwhile, Labour implemented a divide-and-rule policy on benefits — giving workers laid off due to Covid-19 $490 per week to live on, while existing beneficiaries continue to live on the poverty rate of $200-250 per week.

Labour also firmly ruled out the Greens’ election policy of taxing millionaires’ wealth at a rate of 1%, and multi-millionaires at 2%, to pay for a guaranteed minimum income of $325 per week — even though that in itself is, adjusted for inflation, less than the recommendations of the Labour-Green government’s own Welfare Expert Advisory Group. Yet the issue Ardern has personally taken ministerial responsibility for is child poverty reduction!

Then there are long-term, systemic crises such as New Zealand’s low-pay economy and the climate crisis. The government have done the absolute bare minimum on these issues.

They’ve raised the minimum wage, yes — to a level that is still 15% ($3.20) below the living wage, which is the lowest level anybody can live on and stay above the poverty line. Unlike the Greens, Labour did not campaign for opt-out union membership, which would be a huge time-saver for union organisers and delegates across the country, allowing them to focus on campaigns and strikes rather than the constant churn of recruiting.

The government has utterly failed when it comes to the long-term issue of the climate crisis, where they want campaigners to be content with the toothless, non-binding Zero Carbon Act, which doesn’t even fully include New Zealand’s biggest polluting sector, agriculture. On this issue the Greens are directly implicated, thanks to centrist party co-leader James Shaw, who continues in his role as Minister for Climate Change for a second term thanks to his party’s bizarre decision to go into a confidence-and-supply arrangement with a majority government instead of properly opposing said government from the left, as is desperately needed.

The Nature of the Labour Party

The reason why Labour, the supposed party of workers, and Ardern, with all her talk of “kindness”, cannot govern for every New Zealander when it comes to such pressing issues as the housing crisis, poverty, low wages and climate change, is because they are a party which seeks to manage the capitalist system, minimise class conflict, and keep the economy growing in perpetuity.

When it came to Covid-19, the medium-term interests of the economy did indeed align temporarily with the interests of workers. But the interests of the capitalist class in the long term are wedded to the neoliberal economic model, in which taxes are kept low for those at the top, wages stay low for workers, any redistribution of the obscene wealth hoarded by the rich is kept minimal, the human right of housing continues to be a commodity to be bought, sold and speculated upon, and therefore inaccessible for an ever-larger number of workers, and all the while exponential economic growth is essential — growth which now, in the light of environmental breakdown, risks to make the very planet we live upon uninhabitable.

Ardern and the current Labour Party are Third Way neoliberals, in the style of Tony Blair in the UK and Bill Clinton in the US. They have given up even on the basic left-wing principles of mid-20th Century social democratic leaders such as Michael Joseph Savage, let alone the original goal of Labour’s socialist founders, who once upon a time sought to end capitalist greed, and the misery it creates for the rest of us, for good.

Michael Joseph Savage was Aotearoa’s first ever Labour Prime Minister, from 1935 until his death in 1940. He is revered as a hero within the Labour Party.

The First Labour Government (1935-1949), led by Savage and later by Peter Fraser, could at least partially claim at the time that they were “governing for all”, as they built the first state houses and created the welfare system to look after workers and the poor while raising taxes on the rich. Even so, they ultimately failed to challenge the long-term power of the capitalist elite in Aotearoa, and thus allowed the system as a whole to continue and eventually reset to the level of extreme inequality we see today.

Ardern can make no such claim; while her government will continue to deliver mild progressive reforms which National wouldn’t have, overall they will not even touch the foundations of neoliberalism in this country.

No, Labour in the 21st Century will not govern for the workers without a serious ideological overhaul.

The Case for Hope

That being said, there is absolutely no reason to despair. While Labour refuses to govern for all, that doesn’t necessarily mean their hand cannot be forced. The First Labour Government did what it did for the working class in the 1930s and 40s because there was a powerful movement of workers and the unemployed in this country. We can and we must rebuild such a movement again today.

The workers’ movement needs to take heart from the absolute drubbing received by the National Party, Winston Peters, and the small conspiratorial far-right parties — the New Conservatives, Advance NZ, et al — and rather than waiting for this Labour Government with its huge mandate to deliver the change we so desperately need, demand it.

Red-line issues we should campaign on include:

  • Making the minimum wage a living wage
  • Guaranteeing a proper universal minimum income of at least $500 per week to New Zealanders, alongside universal, free basic services such as university and dental care
  • Building 100,000 state houses and freezing rent increases for the long term
  • Giving amnesty to migrant workers, both offshore and onshore, who have lived in insecure conditions, often with visas tied to their bosses, for far too long
  • Creating a Green New Deal to move our economy away from pollution-intensive agriculture and fossil fuels in the next ten years, creating hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs

Another question needs to be broached by the left in the unions and social movements — the question of whether or not we are ready to build a new left-wing party to bring these demands together and provide real opposition to the now-hegemonic Labour government.

The Greens showed us they cannot be properly trusted to represent the left when they elected ex-corporate consultant James Shaw as their co-leader, and they have shown as much again with 85% of party members taking Labour’s bait and supporting the government instead of going independent and becoming a left-wing opposition party. This is in spite of the elections of new left-wing MPs Ricardo Menéndez March, Teanau Tuiono and Elizabeth Kerekere, who are allies of left-wing co-leader Marama Davidson — we should welcome these new MPs and work with them wherever they are willing to stand with the movements in the streets, even if on the whole we cannot rely on half of a parliamentary party to represent the left.

All three newly elected Green MPs — Elizabeth Kerekere, Teanau Tuiono and Ricardo Menéndez March — are supported by the left-wing faction within the Green Party.

A new left-wing party, which would bring together fighting trade unionists, the left of the social movements and Māori radicals, needs to be built in time for the 2023 election. Such a party would provide a real, independent voice for workers in the struggle against neoliberal capitalism and all the social and environmental crises it creates.

There is no point in one group in alone as an isolated group of revolutionaries — what is needed is a united front bringing together those who tried to build the Mana Movement last decade, and those on the reformist left who are inspired by popular figures such as Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Evo Morales. A coalition of the broad left will be necessary to build a party which will succeed, rather than a small group left to flounder on its own.

But before, during and after the formation of such a party, the struggle for workers’ rights, environmental protection, social change and Tino Rangatiratanga must continue to be strengthened. Without unions and social movements, we will get nowhere. The struggle must go on!



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

Posted by Elliot Crossan in 2020 New Zealand general election, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Do Labour Deserve a Second Term — and Will They Finally Deliver?

Do Labour Deserve a Second Term — and Will They Finally Deliver?

By Elliot Crossan

Jacinda Ardern is headed for a landslide victory in the 2020 New Zealand general election.  The Labour Party are currently polling around 47-50% — down from the stratospheric high of 60.9% seen in July, but still on course for easily their best election result since 1987, and still in with some chance of forming the first majority government since proportional representation was introduced in 1996.

Do Ardern and Labour deserve this remarkable popularity?  By some measures, yes.  From a health perspective, Ardern has shown unwavering commitment to the government’s Zero Covid strategy.  This strategy has succeeded, despite August’s hiccup, and continues to be one of the few genuinely good international examples of how to stamp out this virus.  While so many fellow OECD nations saw hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths as a result of the first wave, and are now being hit by a second wave which in some countries, including the UK, looks to be even worse, the government under Ardern’s leadership have done a brilliant job in keeping New Zealanders safe.

Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

However, as huge a threat as Covid-19 continues to pose to us, the pandemic is far from the only crisis facing Aotearoa.  The housing crisis, a result of 30 years of free market economics, is still in full swing.  Labour have categorically failed to build enough houses, and they’ve failed to keep prices and rents under control.  Their flagship Kiwibuild policy is rightly derided, even though National could not be more hypocritical in their attacks, given their appalling track record in office from 2008 to 2017.  A new approach to housing is needed, one which involves building new, high quality state houses to be provided at affordable rates — and rent increases urgently need to be restricted.  Working class people are fed up with housing unaffordability, and with the fact that Aotearoa has the highest homelessness rate in the OECD.

Labour has also failed to tackle the chronic issue of low wages — teachers, nurses and thousands of other public sector workers had to go on strike against the government to get better deals after being offered pay rises barely above inflation!  Meanwhile, the government’s minimum wage increases have been better than nothing, but still do not constitute a living wage.

It’s the same story when it comes to tax — Labour wants us to be content with the absolute bare minimum.  Their policy is to introduce a new top income tax bracket at 39% for those earning over $180,000 per year.  One of the first policies of Helen Clark’s government was to raise the top tax rate for those earning over $60,000 a year ($91,400 in today’s money) to 39% in April 2000.  Labour’s current election proposal is better than the Ardern government’s first term policy of zero tax increases on wealthier New Zealanders, but it is still not good enough at all.  All other tax increases on the rich have been ruled out, even the capital gains tax recommended by the government’s own Tax Working Group.  Also off the table are reductions in regressive taxes such as Goods and Services Tax (GST), which disproportionately take money from workers and the poor.  Such unequal taxes should have been scrapped years ago!

Jacinda Ardern is without a doubt a better candidate for Prime Minister than hardcore conservative Judith Collins.  Collins coming to power would likely mean the most right-wing government New Zealand has had since 1993, even if it wasn’t in coalition with the fanatical ACT Party.  Collins and National Party finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith are planning extreme austerity measures, while ACT wants to freeze the minimum wage for three years, slashing the earnings of those at the bottom relative to inflation.  Thankfully, National and ACT are very unlikely to end up with a majority this election.

There is no question therefore as to whether or not a Labour victory is preferable to the bleak alternative.  But there is also no question that a second-term Labour government, freed from the excuse of Winston Peters and his obstruction, needs to finally deliver for workers.  Ardern’s strategy appears at the moment to be to coast to a landslide reelection based solely on her Covid record and her personal popularity, while promising the bare minimum in terms of progressive policy.  This means that the only scenario in which Labour will truly challenge the crises facing Aotearoa is if a huge movement of working class people rises up and forces them to do so.

Party Vote Green — But Get Ready to Build a New Party

The incumbent Green Party caucus.

Labour are not the only left-of-centre party contesting this election, of course.  The Green Party are once again hovering just above the 5% threshold required to return to parliament, while the Māori Party have made a sharp left turn in response to losing both of their electorate seats in 2017 after their disgraceful role in propping up John Key and Bill English’s government.  The Māori Party may have ruled out going into coalition with National this time, but the question of broken trust must surely remain.  Also worrying is that the nationalist undercurrent lying beneath their mostly progressive, sometimes radical policy platform is belied by a xenophobic commitment to “curb all immigration,” supposedly to deal with the housing crisis.

The Greens are clearly the most left-wing party this election.  Their Poverty Action Plan, which would give $325 per week as a guaranteed minimum income to all those in need, is a smarter way of packaging Metiria Turei’s brave but heavily scapegoated 2017 policy of increasing benefits and removing all Work and Income sanctions.  The party’s tax plan, released alongside the Poverty Action Plan — a 1% tax on all wealth over $1 million, a 2% tax on wealth over $2 million; two new top income tax brackets, 37% on income over $100,000 per year, and 42% on income over $150,000 per year; and a crackdown on tax avoidance and loopholes — is significantly more progressive than the Greens’ tax policies from previous elections, and should be common sense in a time of crisis like this.  They have emphasised that these policies will only affect the richest 7% of New Zealanders, who can surely afford to pay more to help everybody else right now.  Labour’s complete political cowardice is exposed in contrast, with the Greens stepping up.

The Greens have also made decent commitments on housing and workers’ rights.  They plan to build 5,000 new houses per year, in order to clear the public housing waiting list in five years, and to stop Labour’s privatisation-by-stealth of public land by scrapping the policy of building new state houses on 30% of the land previously used, while selling off the other 70%.  The party has also promised to restore the right to solidarity strikes and political strikes, and to make union membership default when starting a new job, moving from opt-in to opt-out.  These changes if implemented would have huge effects in building the strength of the workers’ movement.

If anything, their environmental policies are the Greens’ weakness this election.  The party’s male co-leader, James Shaw, is the current government’s Climate Minister, and responsible for the passage of the toothless Zero Carbon Act (ZCA), which was watered down in an attempt to be “cross-partisan” by getting support from Labour, National and NZ First — only for National, inevitably enough, to commit to gutting the ZCA if elected.  Shaw’s climate plan is heavily reliant on “green investment” into private businesses.  Shaw refuses to understand that the market cannot solve a crisis caused by capitalism’s need for constant economic growth.

This highlights the central contradiction in the Green Party — a large portion of the membership honestly believes they should have a politically “balanced” co-leadership: a female co-leader, Marama Davidson, who has been a staunch left-wing activist and Tino Rangatiratanga campaigner all her life, alongside a male co-leader, James Shaw, who used to work as a consultant at multinational corporations PricewaterhouseCooper and HSBC, and whose entire political project is emissions trading and green capitalism.  Shaw stated in his 2014 maiden speech in parliament that he is “a huge fan of the market” — and therein lies the problem. He also made the provocative statement that “Thatcher was right” about climate change; he knew what he was doing when he said that.

Green Party male co-leader James Shaw is an advocate of “regulated” capitalism.

The Greens’ political strategy is to play to the left at the same time as trying to court middle class centrist voters, and the politically naïve membership is somehow able to constantly ignore the internal ideological struggle this supposedly “balanced” leadership structure constantly creates.  It is clear that the left of the party has written the transformative social policies, policies which won’t be taken up by Labour unless forced, whilst the right of the party has used its government power to advocate neoliberal market-based environmental policies which the centrists in charge of the Labour Party are quite happy to implement.

What this demonstrates is the urgent need for a new left-wing party based on the power of the working class.  Obviously it is too late this election cycle, but the left must get its act together for the 2023 election.  We can’t keep relying on the very mixed bag that is the Green Party, with its constant compromises, capitulations, and capitalist non-solutions to the huge threat that is the climate crisis.  The left in the unions and social movements of Aotearoa need to stop reeling from the defeat of Mana — which by 2023 will be nine years ago — and form a coalition against neoliberal capitalism which will unequivocally stand for people before profit.

We have three years to gear up for next time.  Until then, the Green Party is clearly the best choice for the left to vote for, despite the blight on the party that is Shaw’s co-leadership.  Moreover, a good result this election for the Greens could well get several left-wing MPs into parliament — as well as current radical MPs Marama Davidson and Jan Logie, the candidates occupying positions 8 to 11 on the party list are:

Left-wing Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.

Those four candidates need the Greens to receive roughly 8.5-8.8% of the party vote to be guaranteed seats in parliament.  Therefore, voting Green could get six staunch left-wingers elected, and in the absence of a unapologetic left-wing party, those six left MPs will certainly be better than none — especially given one of the new male candidates could be well positioned to challenge Shaw’s co-leadership after the election!

Those who fear that a vote for the Greens could be wasted needn’t fear: proportional representation ensures that, as long as the Greens get at least 5% of the vote, they will stay in parliament.  In fact, MMP means that the centre-left bloc would actually be weakened by voters moving from the Greens to Labour, not the other way around — and though this may turn out to be the first election in many years in which Labour won’t require Green MPs to support the government, as Labour are almost certain to have a bigger share of the party vote than National and ACT combined, there is always a small chance that the Greens falling below 5% could let the Tories in through the back door.

But if we are to take the Greens’ election slogan as advice, the NZ left needs to “think ahead,” and start preparing to build a new left-wing party in time for 2023.  The Greens, progressive though some of their candidates may be, cannot as a whole be relied on to represent the left in parliament.  Therefore my advice to voters is:

  • Party vote Green
  • Electorate vote Green, Labour or left-wing independents, depending on the strength of your local candidates
  • Vote yes to the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill — the War on Drugs needs to end!
  • Vote yes to the End of Life Choice Bill — while this referendum is less clear cut, we believe that everybody has the right to die with dignity
  • Prepare to form a new left-wing party for next election!
Capitalism isn’t working — another world is possible.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

Posted by Elliot Crossan in 2020 New Zealand general election, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Long Past Time For Climate Justice

Long Past Time For Climate Justice

By Elliot Crossan

Runaway climate change is the greatest crisis of the 21st Century.  It has been inspiring in the past few months to see new movements forming to take a stand for our planet — especially young people, as our generation have by far the most to lose from this fast-approaching disaster.  But we can never truly prevent environmental meltdown unless we challenge this problem at its root; unless we challenge the system which is the fundamental cause, both of climate change, and of the extreme inequality in today’s society.  We need to overthrow capitalism.

Capitalism = Profit > People + Planet

The science is clear: we have 12 years at the most to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change from occurring.  This will require an economic and social transformation, the likes of which humanity has rarely seen throughout our history. That is no excuse for inaction — there is simply no alternative.

The problem is not that such a transformation is impossible.  It’s that the current economic system we live under will never be able to deliver it.  Capitalism is a system where a tiny elite own the vast majority of wealth, and hence control the way resources are distributed and used in our world.  Corporations make the decisions over what is produced, who gets employed, how much they are paid, and under what conditions — and inevitably, they always put their profits over the interests of people and the planet.

Just 100 corporations were responsible for 70.6% — nearly three quarters! — of all greenhouse gas emissions between 1988 and 2015.  This crisis has not been caused by ordinary people — workers, students and beneficiaries like you, me, our families and our friends — and it’s not our fault for consuming certain products or relying on cars to get to work, school or uni.  We do not have the choice of whether or not to make those decisions — and we do not have the power to decide the fate of the system as a whole. Only a system where the economy is controlled democratically by communities can prioritise such trivial things as the survival of our generation over the trillions of dollars which climate polluters rake in every day.

We Need a Just Transition

Union ACV-CSC Belgium demonstration for a just transition.

Even if capitalism could become a “green” system, and the “sustainable” businesses won out, this would not bring about climate justice.  The perfect example of an unjust climate so-called solution is the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax.  Yes, we do need to end our dependence on petrol and diesel powered cars to reduce our emissions.  But ordinary people who need to get to work or education on time are not to blame for the lack of decent public transport in this city; we cannot magic into existence overnight a functioning alternative to getting to work by car; and we should not pay the price of this transition — especially when low wages and unaffordable housing are already squeezing people’s incomes so much.

Our trips to work, school and uni are unavoidable.  Even if this policy wasn’t so unfair, it wouldn’t actually reduce emissions at all, because people need to travel across the city anyway!  A just transition would require making trains and busses free, investing far more than the government is currently prepared to into frequent, good quality public transport services, and taxing the fossil fuel and dairy companies to pay for it.

Workers who are currently employed in the dairy or oil and gas sectors are not to blame for the fact that their jobs and livelihoods depend on extracting unsustainable resources.  Even if we were to see a transition to a zero carbon capitalist economy, these workers would be shafted — they would be tossed out of work with no proper safety net to look after them.  A just transition must mean providing a guaranteed livable income and free retraining for all workers. Capitalism will not deliver this, because it is a system which only ever does one thing — turn money into more money for the top 1%.

Even Labour and the Greens Are Failing

Our Prime Minister has responded to the call for school students to strike for climate action by saying that what she’d like to think is that “in New Zealand there’s less cause for protest, [because] we’re certainly trying to do our bit.”  Jacinda Ardern does have better rhetoric than most politicians about how bad the climate crisis is — as, of course, do her coalition partners in the Green Party — but unfortunately, their policies do not match up with the scale of the threat.  It’s not necessarily because they don’t understand how bad climate change is, or because they don’t care. It’s because governments which are not prepared to challenge capitalism simply cannot reduce pollution, whatever their intentions.

Comic by Joel Pett.

As for the Greens — as well as supporting the cruel and ineffective fuel tax, Climate Minister James Shaw has explained why the Government refused to end existing block offers for deep sea oil and gas drilling by effectively saying that the “property rights” of the corporations who have already purchased the permits for this offshore exploration are more important than climate action.  Labour and the Greens have also refused to end permits for drilling on the land entirely — meaning Taranaki is still open to yet more destructive mining and fracking. This is not a green approach in any way, shape or form — it’s a capitalist approach, which once again protects corporate greed instead of the future of the planet.

Is There Any Alternative?

Yes, there is.  Young people and activists challenging inadequate action on climate change from governments, and challenging the very existence of fossil fuel companies, is a great start.  It shows where the real power to stop climate change lies — as the Māori proverb goes: he tangata, he tangata, he tangata; it is the people, the people, the people.

Workers, students and beneficiaries need to unite behind the movement for climate action, and widen our demands — not just an end to environmental destruction, but ultimately, an end to the entire capitalist economic structure which created this crisis in the first place.  We all deserve a better world and a future to believe in — young people more than anybody. Let’s stand together, as students, workers and beneficiaries, whether we are Māori, Pākehā or tauiwi, to demand real climate action, real climate justice, and a more equal society as a whole!



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

Posted by Elliot Crossan in Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
It’s Time For the Greens To Play Hardball on TPPA

It’s Time For the Greens To Play Hardball on TPPA

By Elliot Crossan

4 February 2016 was the day I learnt what the power of ordinary people felt like.  I marched with 30,000 others in the streets of Auckland against the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and I could feel the raw anger of a mass movement, whose years of resistance towards the National government and towards the signing away of Aotearoa’s democracy was coming to a furious head.  The mood was different to the two previous demonstrations I had attended — this time the atmosphere was alive with a pure, tangible defiance; an electrical energy.  We felt like we would do whatever we needed to do in order to show the powerful that they could not get away with what they were trying to impose on us.  The city felt alive with possibility: that maybe, just maybe, a mass of people coming together to articulate our views could actually have an effect on the democratic system so many have a deep distrust for.

It cannot be understated just how crucial it is to any progressive vision of Aotearoa that we stop TPPA.  The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms were the main catalyst for concern around which the opposition movement mobilised.  ISDS clauses would allow corporations to sue governments and overturn laws which harm their profits.  This would jeopardize urgently needed reforms to combat social inequality, to honour our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, or to protect our environment — as a report from Executive Director of the Sustainability Council Simon Terry highlights, “over 85% of the money paid out to date by governments under free trade and investment deals with the US have involved claims over resources and the environment.”  Any attempt to reverse the privatisations of the last 33 years, or even to regulate the market, would be threatened.  Worse still, ISDS cases would’ve been decided in unaccountable international tribunals instead of in national courts.  This means that TPPA would further embed the ideology which places profit over people and planet into international law.

Leading legal expert and TPPA critic, Jane Kelsey, highlights in a recent article for the Spinoff a chapter of the agreement which has not had enough attention: the chapter on electronic commerce, which she says is “basically, a set of rules that will cement the oligopoly of Big Tech for the indefinite future, allowing them to hold data offshore subject to the privacy and security laws of the country hosting the server, or not to disclose source codes, preventing effective scrutiny of anti-competitive or discriminatory practices.”  She goes on to outline how “other rules say offshore service providers don’t need to have a presence inside the country, thus undermining tax, consumer protection and labour laws, and governments can’t require locally established firms to use local content or services.”  This is further evidence of how the agreement is not about trade — it is about enshrining corporate control decades into the future.

Labour, New Zealand First and Green politicians turned up to our marches against the TPPA, and made political capital from voicing their concurrence with the demands of our movement.  Then-frontbencher Jacinda Ardern said of TPPA that “it is unlike any free trade agreement we’ve been party to before”, and that “it wasn’t just state to state, it was corporate to state.”  The Labour Party’s minority submission in the Select Committee concluded with the statement “the TPPA will have ramifications for generations of New Zealanders.  For their sake, we should not so lightly enter into an agreement which may exacerbate long-term challenges for our economy, workforce, and society.”  Winston Peters went so far as to write a piece for the Dominion Post entitled “With the Trans-Pacific Partnership, New Zealand is signing a blank cheque”, and opining that “being a beacon of free and fair trade is what New Zealand once claimed it stood for.  That clearly is not something that current TPPA proponents in New Zealand can argue now.  When it comes to the naivety shower some New Zealanders seem to want all the water.”  Meanwhile, Barry Coates, who was one of the leaders of the campaign against the TPPA, briefly served as a Green MP, and was highly placed on the party’s list going into the election; the Greens were sounding alarm bells about TPPA as far back as 2010, and of the three parties in government, have the most consistent record of opposition.

Yet how swiftly have the tables turned.  Now that they are in power, both Labour and New Zealand First have decided to support what campaign group It’s Our Future are calling “the Zombie TPPA”, the revived agreement minus the United States.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Trade Minister David Parker are desperately insisting that their sudden shift of stance is “not a u-turn”, while Winston Peters is claiming that “the deal is not the deal inherited, it’s different … with substantial changes with the types that the Canadians were holding out on as well, that we both have seen changes that mean we can support this deal”.  Only the Greens remain against it, with new MP and trade spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman maintaining staunch opposition and outlining how the Greens believe that disagreement and protest within government, including on the TPPA, are essential to the Green vision.

Has the TPPA, now it has been rebranded as the “Comprehensive and Progressive TPP”, changed in nature?  Jane Kelsey believes it has not, saying that “at present, the deal that they have now said has been substantially improved has 22 of over 1,000 provisions suspended — not removed — and those will be reactivated if the US decides to reengage with the deal.  So it’s the same old deal, it’s just got a bit of tinsel on it.”  Green co-leader James Shaw has asserted that “As long as the ISDS mechanisms remain in place, the TPP-11 undermines New Zealand’s ability to stand up for the protection and enhancement of our environment and our national sovereignty.

Here lie two essential questions.  Was the movement against the TPPA just protesting the National Party, or was it about a broader opposition towards control of Aotearoa by business elites no matter which party is in power?  Political commentators from leftist Giovanni Tiso to right-wing attack blogger Cameron Slater are asking the same question.  If, as I believe, the answer was the latter — what do we do to stop this corporate stitch-up of an agreement once and for all, now that Labour and New Zealand First have betrayed us?

If the deal goes to a vote in the House, then National, ACT, Labour and New Zealand First will vote for it, with only the Greens opposed.  It will pass 112 votes to 8.  But the opposition to TPPA must not melt away quietly, resigned to defeat.  It may be that we cannot stop the deal now, but there is no question that we have to try with all our might to bring it down.

We must heed the essential lesson which all those who have gone before us in wanting to change the world in favour of ordinary people have learnt — that, to use the words of slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “power concedes nothing without demand.  It never has, and it never will.”  If we want to stop corporate elites and their allies in government from getting away with imposing this deal onto us, we have to be prepared to organise and to disrupt — we cannot rely on the goodwill of politicians to change the world for us.  We should not have needed Jacinda and Winston to remind us of this!

So what is to be done?  Firstly, we need to educate people on how the “CPTPP” is no different from the deal National tried to sell us.  Jane Kelsey is going on a speaking tour to this purpose this month — you can find your local meeting here.

Secondly, we need to organise to hold demonstrations as big if not bigger than our protests against the original TPPA.  We should not tone down our resistance when so-called progressive parties are in power — we should be angrier!  The National Party exists to serve the interests of the wealthy and privileged; but Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens claim to exist to represent the people.  The fact that Labour and New Zealand First are so readily and easily willing to drop their principles as soon as they enter government should cause us shock and outrage, not passivity.  We need to be as loud and defiant in our resistance to the government’s betrayal as possible.

Thirdly, we need to mobilise forms of protest which show the threat people power can pose to those who seek to govern us.  The unions should strongly consider strike action to demonstrate the high political price any government will pay if it tries to serve the interests of profit over looking after the wellbeing of the people and planet.  We should also consider the option of staging occupations and creating significant inconveniences for the powerful.  We need to frighten Labour and New Zealand First into doing what we want them to do if we actually want them to listen to us.  Politics is not a nice game where everybody is polite — the powerful know this, and we need to learn the same thing if we are serious about stopping them.

I make my fourth argument as someone who has been a member of the Green Party for three years and served in 2017 as the Co-Convenor of the Young Greens.  The Greens only have eight MPs, three of whom are Ministers outside of Cabinet — apart from the areas agreed in our Confidence and Supply agreement, the party has little to no power over government… other than the power to bring the government down in a situation desperately important enough.  And I would argue that TPPA presents such a situation.

Agreeing to an international legal framework which makes irreversible the current economic system, which is an engine constantly driving private profit and carbon emissions up while the people and planet suffer, is a permanent threat to democracy and to progressive values.  The Green Party Charter contains four principles: ecological wisdom, social responsibility, appropriate decision making, and non-violence, with a preamble to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  The founding document of the Greens simply cannot be implemented within the structures TPPA would entrench.  This poses an existential threat which cannot be ignored to the hopes and dreams that Greens, and progressives in general, have for the future of Aotearoa.

Bringing down the government is a drastic move to make, especially so early in its term.  There are few things which could necessitate such a play being made, but TPPA is, in my view, undeniably one of them.  There is simply no alternative if we are serious about creating a better future.

What would the effect of the Greens withdrawing Confidence and Supply be?  Given it is far too late now for Winston to make a u-turn and support National, and given the Greens would never prop up National, neither National or Labour would have the confidence of the House.  This would mean Ardern would have to choose whether to concede to the Greens, or to call another election.

What would happen in another election?  Polling taken in 2012 through 2016 indicates a broad public opposition to TPPA.  An election held on the basis of the agreement would favour the Greens well, as long as the party could effectively communicate the gravity of the threat posed by the agreement, and hammer home that we are the only party who have never wavered in our stance against it.  Given their u-turn on the trade deal so many of its members and supporters despise, Labour would be at risk of losing its progressive base to the Greens.  This is especially true given how fiercely Labour’s newly won Māori voters are against TPPA.  Even moreso, New Zealand First would be set to implode — Winston is already in big trouble, with his party on 3.8% in the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll.  Even before the full extent of the TPPA debate has taken place, New Zealand First are in big trouble.  It would not benefit Jacinda or Winston at all to risk a second election fought over their swift reversal of positions over such a crucial issue.

Perhaps a compromise is in order.  Given the fact that Labour and New Zealand First went into the election opposing TPPA, and given that it permanently removes democratic rights from New Zealanders, the very least that the government should do would be to allow a binding referendum to take place before agreeing to the deal.  If the people of this country vote to back the “Comprehensive and Progressive” TPPA, then fair enough, the government can pass it through parliament.  If not, we should expect Labour and New Zealand First to return to their original position and vote against it.

There could not be anything more destructive to the Greens than to allow a trade deal to pass through parliament which would allow corporations to sue governments.  To chain the hands of future governments to corporate rule and the prioritisation of profit over any of our principles would be a farce that would destroy hope of progressive change in Aotearoa.  If we are, however, prepared to stand up and fight back, it is now or never.

What are we ever going to achieve if we are not prepared to play hardball?  The answer is unequivocal — nothing.



This article was originally published on the website of It’s Our Future NZ, the campaign group opposed to the TPPA.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist. At time of writing, he was a member of the Green Party and the GreenLeft Network.

Posted by Elliot Crossan in Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
We Must Not Stop Challenging Power — Our Fight Has Barely Begun

We Must Not Stop Challenging Power — Our Fight Has Barely Begun

By Elliot Crossan

The Green Party exists to challenge power.  Our Charter principles are impossible to implement without a sustained assault on wealthy interests.  We must defy every premise of the capitalist system whose existence relies on colonisation, unlimited material growth, fossil fuel extraction, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.

The government has just changed to a supposedly friendly, socially-conscious Labour administration, and the Greens have a Confidence and Supply deal and Ministers for the first time. But I worry that any arguments for structural change in Aotearoa that our Party has been (or should be) making will be suppressed in favour of acting to prop up the new face of the status quo.  This instinct, if followed, will lead to the dying away of the Greens as a genuine alternative — a catastrophe for any hope of real action in the coming years on any of the issues and values we care about.

We may have portfolios and a deal with the Labour Government, but we must not for one second make the mistake of believing that the Greens have power.  We are exactly where the Labour Party wants us to be — small, weak, unable to seriously challenge them, and unable to position ourselves clearly as a more progressive alternative to them.  We have only what power the Prime Minister and Finance Minister will allow us to exercise — able to make minor tweaks in the areas we have been given control over, but no ability to do anything at all that would threaten the capitalist, extractivist system that is harming people and planet.

Just look at what isn’t in our deal with Labour.  There is no mandatory Te Reo in schools, no carbon tax, no capital gains tax, no higher taxes on the rich at all, and no increase in core benefits, or systemic changes to the culture of WINZ and its sanctioning regime.  This constitutes a frail imitation of basic and vitally necessary changes to New Zealand’s benefit system — changes so bravely championed by Metiria.  There is not even a guarantee that there will be an end to new mining, fracking, or deep sea oil and gas drilling projects.  Fairly moderate policies that would have seen a more just and sustainable society were taken off the table by Labour before the Government had even begun.  Fossil fuel extraction will continue, everyday colonisation will go on as before, and the particularly savage model of capitalism we live under — neoliberalism, with the vast level of inequality it creates — will continue entirely unchanged.

When it comes to immigration, Labour and New Zealand First intend to be xenophobic and nasty.  Labour decided during its third term in opposition that trying to campaign in even a moderately social democratic way is too hard, and that it would make migrants the scapegoats for social problems instead.  Underfunded public services and infrastructure are the result of austerity, not migrants.  Low wages are the result of union busting and a low minimum wage, not migrants.  Inequality is the result of neoliberalism, not migrants.  In challenging power, it cannot be more crucial for the Greens to stand up to the xenophobic and factually untrue narrative that any of our problems are either caused or exacerbated by our already fairly restrictive immigration system.  We cannot call ourselves a party that believes in social responsibility unless we stand up to the xenophobia of this Government and say loudly and clearly that migrants and refugees are welcome here.

Over the next three years, in the next election and beyond, we need not only to continue challenging power as much as we can despite our compromised position, but we need to rethink the current direction of the Green Party and begin to fight a more bold, coherent and all-encompassing battle for the soul of Aotearoa.  We fought this election on a platform of fairly limited changes — our fiscal policy was restricted by the neoliberal straightjacket of the Budget Responsibility Rules, and we were not advocating truly systemic changes to the economy.  A bigger government will be necessary to urgently tackle climate change and inequality, and to grant serious reparations for colonisation.  Next election, we need to campaign on a platform of raising taxes on the rich in order to pay for bringing the essentials of life back under public, democratic control, spending more on services to benefit everybody, and implementing a Green New Deal that will shift New Zealand towards becoming a carbon neutral economy, fast.

A better world is possible — not with the current government, but with a new, radical vision for the future of Aotearoa.



This article was originally written on behalf of the Young Greens of Aotearoa New Zealand and published in issue 56 of Te Awa, the Green Party magazine. It has been republished with the kind permission of the editor.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist. At time of writing, he was Co-Convenor of the Young Greens.

Posted by Elliot Crossan in 2017 New Zealand general election, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
A Politics of Urgency — Speech to the 2017 Green Party AGM

A Politics of Urgency — Speech to the 2017 Green Party AGM

By Elliot Crossan

The following is the speech given on behalf of the Young Greens at the 2017 Green Party AGM by the male Co-Convenor, Elliot Crossan, adapted for Te Awa.


Tena koutou katoa.  I am Elliot Crossan, the male Co-Convenor of the Young Greens for 2017.  The Young Greens network is stronger than ever; we are a vibrant community of activists brimming with dedication and determination who believe that a better world is possible.  We are proud to be part of the most progressive parliamentary movement in Aotearoa, a movement that emphasises member-led democracy and the inclusion of a diversity of voices.

I would like to raise the voice of the Young Greens today, and share some of our thoughts and feelings with you.  I would like to thank James for the graceful apology he recently gave for misstating our policy on immigration.  Many Young Greens felt very strongly that we could not stand by the statement about having a 1% cap on immigration. New Zealand First, Labour and National seem intent on turning this election into a competition on who can dog whistle the loudest. We felt that the Greens, as the voice for young and progressive people, should be standing up, not standing by, and fighting for the inclusion of migrants in Aotearoa.  It is 33 years of neoliberalism that has caused Aotearoa’s inequality crisis, not migrants.  Now that that statement has been apologised for, we feel that there is a chance for the Greens to fight back against xenophobia in this election.  We challenge the Party to do so, and to fight in solidarity with migrant communities, come what may.

There is an urgency that informs the politics of my generation.  If I could communicate one thing on behalf of the Young Greens, it is this.  Climate change is poised to make the planet uninhabitable for human beings within our lifetimes.  We cannot afford houses; we can barely afford rent; we are saddled with debt; we have to work long hours for low wages.  This is why young people do not have time for establishment politics or establishment economics.  This is why young people will not accept pandering, a conservative approach, or arbitrary constraints on the political imaginary that crush any hope of the systemic changes society needs simply for humanity to survive.  Young people have to be radical if we want a future worth living in.

Now is not the time to limit ourselves to right-wing economic vision and framing.  There is an idea that permeates the Greens and Labour that the left can only win power if we constrain ourselves and our arguments in order to “move to the centre ground”.  Martin Luther King would’ve called it “the tranquilising drug of gradualism.”  The theory is based on the premise that New Zealanders cannot think beyond this world of profit and greed at any cost.  This is a premise that young people reject, because we know that our generation has the imagination and the will for a new political and economic system that puts people and planet before corporate interests.  Left-wing politics wins when people are inspired, and when a vision of genuine change is given. It is the right that benefits from hopelessness.  If the Greens buy into the narrative of the right, then we allow the terms of debate to be defined by a crushing cynicism — and young and disenfranchised people will not turn out to vote.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. railed against “the tranquilising drug of gradualism.”

There has been discussion in our circles lately about why exactly we are seeing the unexpected rise of left-wing politicians Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, and why exactly young people rallied to their campaigns in unprecedented numbers.  The most resonant analysis that gets to the heart it, I think, is that young people saw, for the first time in their lives, the politics of hope.  They finally saw a chance for real, sweeping change.

The Green Party are uniquely placed to see this happen in Aotearoa; our kaupapa is based on being able to deal with the crises of the future, climate change and inequality.  John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor, proclaimed at an anti-austerity demo after the recent UK election:

“We have campaigned for years on that slogan ‘another world is possible.’  But I tell you now: another world is in sight!  Let’s seize this moment!”

The opportunity is there for the Green Party to seize the same moment, to capitalise on the enthusiastic radicalism of young people, and to change Aotearoa for good.  Another world is possible — if, and only if, we have the courage to fight for it.

Elliot Crossan speaking on behalf of the Young Greens at the 2017 Green Party Annual General Meeting.



This speech, adapted into an article, was originally written on behalf of the Young Greens of Aotearoa New Zealand and published in issue 55 of Te Awa, the Green Party magazine. It has been republished with the kind permission of the editor.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist. At time of writing, he was Co-Convenor of the Young Greens and a member of the GreenLeft Network.

Posted by Elliot Crossan in Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand politics, 0 comments