May 19th, 2011, was a day of protest against the planned cuts that were expected to be announced in the Budget that afternoon. It had been organised by the Council of Trade Unions and the Labour Party.
The Greens also took an active part in the protest. In Wellington the protest was held outside Parliament. The speeches were standard electioneering stuff. Helen Kelly, the leader of the Council of Trade Unions, spoke of the impact of government legislation on workers and how cuts would severely impact on the public service.
Another speaker spoke of the impact of the cuts to Early Childhood Education (ECE) and the reduction of qualified ECE teachers to 80% of all ECE staff and how it compromises child care.
The Greens Co-Leader Meteria Turei also spoke in which she criticised the Budget for doing nothing for most New Zealanders. Turei pushed for a more environmentally sustainable Budget that promoted sustainable job growth, an increase in research and development finance and the restoration of the Training Incentive Allowance. As always the greens never explain how sustainability can be achieved under capitalism!
Phil Goff, the leader of the Labour Party, gave a speech that was well received but which didn’t reveal much, except he made specific reference to a Labour and Greens coalition government. This is either a reflection of a possible move to the Left by Labour or a possible move to the Right by the Greens. As expected, his attacks were against the cuts to the programmes introduced by Labour, including Working for Families and Kiwisaver. The speech was clearly aimed at the Labour faithful who seemed to make up the majority of the crowd.
The number of protesters would’ve been about a thousand at the most and were made up of union members from Finsec, the Public Service Association, the Nurses Federation, the Service and Food Workers Union, the Maritime Workers Union and some smaller unions.
The Council of Trade Unions and the Labour Party don’t appear to have understood that people are generally disillusioned with the current economic, political and social system under which we operate under. The working class might not be chanting “Down with Capitalism!” at the moment but they know the system is rotten and they want real change.
Instead of being offered change they are getting promises that are so lame (and safe) that even the National Party’s mouthpiece The Dominion Post newspaper would’ve found nothing particularly scary with what Labour and the Greens said at the protest.
As I was watching one of the speeches a forty-something woman told me she had gone down to Work and Income for a food grant for herself and her son but they refused to give her one so she went to a loan shark to get money and they charged her 415% interest on a $40 loan. So she has to pay back $206! And the most frightening part is that this isn’t unusual but becoming increasingly common. The difference between now and the mid-2000s is that it’s not just beneficiaries like person mentioned but working people being caught out in the vicious debt-poverty trap.
How is a speech condemning the tax cuts for the wealthy going to help people who can’t even afford to put food on their tables? Goff isn’t wrong to condemn the tax cuts for the wealthy but fiddling around with the tax system is not going to make the slightest scrap of difference for people who are forced to pawn off everything they have to pay for food to feed themselves and their families.
Militant Action Needed
Developing and co-coordinating militant action is the best way right now for the trade unions and the Labour Party to bring home to the bosses and the government that people have had enough.
More rigorous socialist policies need to be pursued by the Labour Party leadership and its delegates because New Zealand workers are tired of a Labour Party that have no policies that distinguish them from the National Party in any great way and which lacks any type of vision, let alone a reformist (social democratic) or Socialist one.
Equally important is that workers don’t want to be told by career bureaucrats in the Labour Party or the trade unions what’s good for them. Workers want to have a real say in the way things are done in this country. Not just in the work place but also in the way government operates.
Finally, are 'May Day' speeches from the Labour and trade union leaders enough to win the general election without solid socialist policies to back it up?
The polls suggest not!