There were approximately thirty people protesting outside John Key's 'Job Summit' on Friday.

Columnist Chris Trotter in a recent newspaper column and posted on his blog has argued that, at the moment anyway, we cannot expect to see in New Zealand the kind of large and angry protests we are seeing overseas. He specifically mentions a protest in Ireland last month where a 100,000 people were marching in the streets, but equally he could of pointed to protests in Latvia, France, Argentina or Iceland. The anger level is rising, the discontent with our 'rulers' is palpable.

Here in New Zealand things have been much more sedate which has led Trotter to conclude that a different kind of strategy is needed here, where most of us are more likely, he says, to swing in behind Key's call for 'national and united action.'

Of course, Trotter's call for a different kind of strategy is all well and good - except he keeps urging us to get in behind the politically bankrupt Labour Party.

Why are things quiet in New Zealand? Trotter writes:

'That’s because, when it comes to dealing with the global economic crisis, the slogan "We are all in this boat together", corresponds much more accurately with the mood of the New Zealand electorate than the European Left’s defiant "We won’t pay for your crisis!"

He suggests that the level of protest may rise as the economic recession takes grip and the unemployment figures rise but, in the meantime, those of us in the 'fractious ghettos of the Far Left' (ah, he just can't resist a cheap jibe) are politically out of step. Since this criticism is coming from someone still supporting Labour, Trotter isn't just 'out of step' - he's walking backwards!

Of course we have to remember that Friday's protest was principally organised by one small socialist group, Socialist Aotearoa, which has limited resources.

The 'leaders' of the political organisation that could have lent its considerable resources to protest action were at the talkfest, namely trade union leaders like CTU President Helen Kelly and EMPU national secretary Andrew Little.

The Labour Party also predictably supported the 'Job Summit', although it wasn't invited, with leader Phil Goff sounding more like John Key everyday - or is it John Key sounding more like Phil Goff?

Joe Carolan on the Socialist Aotearoa blog writes:

'One of the glaring realities this summit exposed was that the country lacks a combative opposition at the moment- one of the reasons why John Key scores high in media popularity polls. Unfortunately, there are those in the Trade Union bureaucracy and on the Cappuccino Left who would rather sneer at those willing to stand up for a radical alternative outside the front door of this Capitalist summit rather than organise a fight back. A boycott of this conference by Union leaders would have sent a clearer signal than what amounted to nothing more than their pacification and incorporation by a hegemonically astute Key. Whilst the now invisible Labour Party leadership licks it wounds and talks of capacity building, workers in Fisher and Paykel, TVNZ and Irwin Industrial Tools face redundancy.'

Chris Trotter's big idea of an 'alternative' conference disregarded the reactionary stance of both the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour Party.

His suggestion that neoliberal Phil Goff should have organised an 'alternative' conference is simply implausible and sounds, well, a bit desperate. Trotter is still looking for something - anything -that it will insert the Labour Party into the progressive debate. Unfortunately for Chris, he hasn't got much to work with.

Why would neoliberal Phil organise a conference and invite participants that are largely opposed to the neoliberalism he supports? Phil Goff is going to sit there quietly while people like Jane Kelsey and Matt McCarten propose economic alternatives that neither he or Labour Party support? I don't think so.

Trotter must know this and I can only suppose he's still hellbent on reviving Labour as -what?'- a party advocating warmed-over keynesianism? He doesn't say but it just sounds like a hopelessly futile endeavour to me.

While he doesn't dismiss the protest action of Socialist Aotearoa, Bryce Edwards also seems to have some time for elements of Trotter's argument. He writes on his Liberation blog;

'The left are right to start organising to protect the working class from possible attacks on their living conditions. But this does not mean simply unreflexively importing the slogans, tactics, and general approaches of the left in other western countries. There are different local economic, social and political conditions that makes the job of leftists different here.'

But, I suspect, the strategy that Edwards would advocate will differ markedly from Trotter's 'back to Labour' approach. Given the excellent material he has written on the Labour party and the decline of soclal democratic politics generally, I doubt he's seeking to revive the fortunes of Labour.

It would be interesting to read some of his ideas on what sort of general approach the New Zealand left should take.

The great economist Ernest Mandel called the market crash and global recession of 1974-5 the ‘second slump’ – the first one being of course that of the 1930s, initiated by the stock market crash of 1929.

We now know that the crash of 2008-9 is more severe, and will have more devastating consequences than that in the 1970s; whether it will be as bad as the 1930s slump we have yet to see - although the economic evidence is beginning to mount that it could well be. The jury though is still out.

Not even the most zealot of neoliberal zealots thinks this recession will come to an end soon. Television news stories that speculate the recession ending in 2009 or 2010 are just ridiculous. Even Minister of Finance Bill English has admitted that this impact of this slump may be felt for anywhere between ten and fifteen years. We know, of course, that its going to be ordinary people who are going to be hit hardest.

That elephant in the corner of the Pacific Events Centre, the one no-one talked about, was 'The Failure of Neoliberalism'.

So what we have now, in New Zealand and around the world, is a huge debate amongst the ruling class and policy-making elites about how to run capitalism, how to salvage something from the almighty economic mess.

Overseas some ideas being bandied by politicians about are about more ‘transparency’ in financial deals, more oversight by central banks and more regulation overall - and perhaps, if forced in it by circumstances, some nationalisation - but so far no one in government or financial circles is coming forward with radical new ideas for a new settlement of the Keynesian type. Obama's proposals for example are not a 'New Deal.'

In New Zealand, as elsewhere, the government and the business class are determined to hang on to the wreck that is neoliberalism. But the high priests of the free market have got nothing to offer that will revive the economy. The cupboard is bare as far as that goes. The free market emperor has no clothes on.

Cycleways and business bailouts won't get New Zealand capitalism out of the poo.

That elephant in the corner of the Pacific Events Centre, the one no-one talked about, was 'The Failure of Neoliberalism'.

I hold the view that capitalism has reached its limits as a progressive force - the world’s people and the planet itself are now in jeopardy.

The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter described capitalism as 'creatively destructive'; new innovations have helped to propel economic growth. Capitalism today however is just destructive.

Marx’s theory of crisis has been completely confirmed, especially the notion of the trend towards the over-accumulation of capital and thus towards a secular decline in the rate of profit.

Consequently we are seeing a rise of protest action around the world and this can only intensify - even I would suggest, in little old 'quiet' New Zealand. It is absolutely impossible to have a economic crisis of such massive scale without enormous outbreaks of social anger and discontent.

This, I think, creates enormous opportunities for the left, but to really capitalise politically it is necessary to create the broadest unity of socialist and anti-capitalist forces.

But we should have no illusions that this will be easy. We need not make the task any harder for ourselves by getting involved in the political cul-de-sac that is the Labour Party.

The socialist left should consider organising around a series of demands that are relevant to ordinary people now. These could include

1. The defence of social welfare services and public service jobs
2. Stop factory and company closures and nationalise bankrupt companies and bring them under worker control.
3. Nationalise the banking sector.
4. Major controls on capital movements.
5. A substantial increase in welfare benefits.
5. A comprehensive public sector programme to provide jobs.

These are just suggestions, none of then original, but they point us in a fundamentally different economic direction.

Of course the task at hand is huge but we should also remember that the big struggles ahead will allow such demands to be promoted and they will also highlight the hopelessly inadequate response of both the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour Party.


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