Maria Hoyle for the Anti-Capitalist: With Jacinda Ardern taking over, there is a feeling of hope and expectation, that it will invigorate the campaign, that young people will go to the ballot box for a change… what’s your view on what Jacinda might offer?
Joe Carolan: We’re in the early throes of Jacindamania [just three days after she took over Labour leadership] and there’s a honeymoon period in the media. Established hatchet men like Patrick Gower have been given pom-poms by Steven Joyce to be her cheerleader. I would argue there’s another member of the Labour caucus that’s in power and his name is Paddy Gower. He seems to be the one who calls which one is their leader! Jacinda is very presentable, there’s a generational thing there, she’s 37. A lot of young people are saying, ‘What was looking very pale and stale and male, with Little and English, now suddenly becomes a generational and even gendered contest’. It becomes Gen Y versus boring old Bill English. So that will have an effect. She’s also pretty hip. For us it’s whether she is going to be a Corbyn-lite or a Trudeau… (ie. calling himself feminist, crying for the indigenous). Trudeau is presentable – he’s on the gay pride marches, nice counter to Trump, saying the right things - yet Canada is doing huge arms deals with Saudi Arabia, doing huge pipeline deals. During Sitting Rock Canada was happy to have a pipeline going through there. So he’s Mr Fossil Fuels, Mr Profiteering from arms deals with Saudi.. The same in France with the neo-liberal Macron – young, presentable, does the liberal stuff, yet you look behind these people’s politics and it’s business as usual.
We’ve had four or five Labour leaders since Helen. Goff – part of the crew who introduced neo-liberalism to NZ - Little, Shearer, Cunliffe. Let’s look at where this Jacinda effect started from. This started from a historically low poll of 24%. You’re dying there. But you don’t have to die… look at Corbyn in the recent UK election; he started at 26% and the media predicted the death of Corbyn. But Labour got stuck into it in terms of policy and it was the launch of that Labour manifesto that really sparked something. And 2.5million new young people registered to vote, by and large they voted Labour. There was a youthquake around policies like free education, abolition of fees, 10 quid an hour minimum wage. Some real grunty stuff. Because Corbyn doesn’t have that much charisma…
M: But he’s got integrity
J: Yes, you saw it at Glastonbury, he rocked the place. He is a genuine socialist, he’s been in the struggles. He’s not a revolutionary but there for the fight. But Jacinda?
M: Some people are saying Jacinda is just style over substance, dismissing her as just another middle class liberal blah blah. We [SA] want something more radical but to be realistic, we don’t want National… What are the chances of Jacinda suddenly pulling out something radical, saying yes we will bring in free education for example? Is that a blind hope?
J: It doesn’t have to be style over substance. You can have both. Style and substance. If Labour were to announce a bold policy initiative that put clear blue water between them and the rest… Little was a decent man but he dithered, he did some tinkering around union things…. But people were hard pressed to say what he stood for. I wonder if this time they’d be more astute and go, ‘If we put in a couple of policies then people would understand there’s a real difference here’. I think one of the big failures of the Clark era – they were in government for nine years – was not delivering on free education, abolishing the fees, the huge student debt - and the way that militates against working class people going to university. And the universities themselves turned into money making machines.
This time around the question for Labour is, what are you going to do that’s different? Their class basis is middle class and a lot of these people will be looking at uni fees and worrying, so that would be a sensible one to introduce. Their policy at the minute, they say in debates with us, is that they support free education, but in nine years’ time! But working class people are saying, if they believe in it why not do it? From January 2018 make university education free for everybody. Why are they so incremental? I think one reason is that they have no fundamental desire there to tax the rich. If you want to do the big initiatives you have to move the wealth from one class to another. Workers are pissed off that Labour supports high taxes for services… but that’s not high taxes on the rich but high taxes on working people who I think pay far too much tax anyway. We want to abolish GST and secondary tax and reduce taxes.
Me; That’s what I thought was missing from her maiden speech in parliament. She is very impressive; it’s what she didn’t say that I liked. She didn’t say we have to make the economy great, she talked about people. But she could have said right there ‘we are going to do something about inequality’ and been more specific. Higher tax for the rich, go after international corporations that don’t pay any tax here. But she would be wary of scaring people off.
J: Yes, the teary-eyed, nodding empath is a character she does well. But to be a leader, a change agent, you’re going to have to say how you are going to do it. When she was asked, does she believe in market capitalism, is she a democratic socialist, she fudged it. She said I am a pragmatic idealist. If you want to actually do these changes you have to say how to do it. Right now we’re only in day 3 of Jacindamania… The reality will be teased out in the next few weeks. She won’t be able to nod her head and have tears in her eyes… that’s not politics. Bourgeois politics that is. I’ve just come from SkyCity where we unionize 800 workers and we’re getting ready to fight for things like the living wage, weekend rates. A lot of our work is based around families.
I was talking to my workers, my delegates – because it’s important you’re not in a left wing bubble like the a lot of the left, the blogosphere, the media commentators – these working class people are the ones who aren’t voting Labour. I know because we have done campaigns to try to get them to vote. Most of these people look at the political class and don’t see themselves there. Do they see themselves in Jacinda? No. They say she is presentable, but I still get a sense that she is not from their class.
M: Jacinda isn’t a figurehead… it’s not enough to be presentable. She has to make decisions every day that affect all of us. So she has to have substance. If you were talking to a young union member, who’s pissed off about housing, inequality etc, what would you say to that person as a socialist coming up to the next election? Would you say Jacinda is useless and Labour has betrayed its roots? Vote Green but join Socialist Aotearoa to fight for an alternative?
J: It’s important that we look at what happens with the class in the next few weeks. If there is a movement, and if there are some policy changes. If it’s a leftward shift that happens. This is a better position than a couple of weeks ago, where the despair around Labour - and the Greens moving to the centre - was infecting everything. And just as people have got excited about Corbyn’s reformism and Bernie Sanders, that has infected the rest of the Left and you have seen a growth of all of the left as confidence has increased. So if there’s increased confidence and people think National can be beaten (Metiria’ stance has been important, her turn to the left, where she stood up for beneficiaries, talked of her own experiences, putting it to the likes of Paula Bennett, raising the issue of people struggling with real poverty), if all of these things are happening you’d have to be a dogmatic sectarian to bury yourself in the sand an go ‘fuck this, it’s not pure; it makes no difference as they’re all capitalists. Real workers who are involved in union struggle know the difference between being paid $20 an hour and $15 an hour. If you are on the sidelines shouting “abolish wage slavery”, who the fuck are you? If you are in the union and help people win 20 or 30 percent more they understand then there is something to be gained by organizing. There’s been an increase in donations to the Labour Party, 1200 new volunteers…
M: Yet Jacinda hasn’t unveiled any policies yet!
J: This is what’s critical, seeing what she comes out with. The role of the socialist left is to start putting forward those sensible demands that would benefit working class and middle class people – night rates, weekend rates, like free education, decriminalization of marijuana, a living wage, rent controls and so forth… demands that actually her generation are ready for.
M: She talked about unions and improving industrial relations… I was listening to Checkpoint and they were talking about the 100 or so that have lost their jobs at A&G Price in Thames. So far they’ve been paid nothing. Wouldn’t it be great to hear Jacinda say ‘hey, we won’t let that happen again!’ To say something really specific about working conditions…
J: But it’s up to the radical left too, to rise to the challenge and stop being the commentariat. There’s a lot we can do in NZ - even under a Tory government we organized, beat them, won the victory against zero hours. If you get organized you can do things. If those Cadbury workers in Dunedin had occupied the factory and produced ‘New Zealand chocolate’, we’d all have bought it and supported the occupation. This is where the radical left needs to get out of the grumbling, ‘boo sucks’ mentality. It needs to get out among working people, get some victories so people can feel we can organize and win. So in Thames, if they had occupied that factory, put demands… I mean, there’s no statutory redundancy in NZ. But we need to put concrete demands rather than just slagging things off. In all the places we [Unite] have organized, we’ve got redundancy clauses now for workers. That’s achievable. That can be done in the next few months.
M: That comes back to not being sectarian… you can only have these conversations with people when they are no longer in despair. The Jacinda effect opens things up a bit more. So, at what point, in the Mt Albert election you got 190 socialists signed up, under what circumstances would you say we need to stand a socialist candidate?
J: It’s important to be clear here. If National were beaten by Labour and the Greens that would be good. That’s what working class people think. That’s not what sectarian little groups think. We know when we organize workplaces that not all workers are revolutionaries. Reformism is inside the class. It’s how workers negotiate daily life, fighting for a bit of improvement. What’s most important right now is that confidence has returned and people believe a change is possible. So what side are we on? Are we on the side that goes, ‘Boo, she’s shite, Joe represented the true 190 socialists in Mt Albert’ Or do we engage with those people who are looking to defeat the Nats, enthused by a new generation led by a young woman. It’s important to be on the side of our class. Not on the side of Labour and the Greens, but on the side of our class who wants to beat the Tories and win some practical things. That is the juncture at the minute. Will it just be rhetoric and smiles, or can we make them fight for real things for us.
And if a government is elected that doesn’t deliver on these things, will people fight for these. I will say, having lived under nine years of the Clark government, we had to fight her to increase paid parental leave. She actually said to Laila Harre ‘Over my dead body’, regarding increasing it from 12 to 14 weeks. Youth rates, we had to fight. It was Sue Bradford vs Helen in parliament, but the movement was on the streets through Unite union to get rid of youth rates. There were repressive things done by Labour last time: sending troops to Afghanistan, the crackdown on Maori and radical activists in the Urewera raids, the foreshore and seabed... We should remember that is the reality of the last Labour nine years. And in all that time they couldn’t deliver a simple thing like free education. This time around there’s a bigger radical left, more people in the activist left, outside Labour and the Greens. It might be more dispersed because there isn’t a strong left-wing party which I still think we need to organize, something outside of Labour and the Greens. That could stand in elections if it wanted to, but it has to be a party of the movement. Labour could tack left, but the Greens definitely have. There’ll be a lot more people than last time to hold them to account because we are suffering. People are suffering. That is our most important role – to put concrete demands and hold them accountable.
Maria Hoyle SA