Mike Treen, national director of the Unite Union, thinks voting for a neoliberal Labour government is 'better' than not voting.

In an article on the Daily Blog Mike Treen, the national director of Unite,  surveys the health of the western  left and comes to the conclusion that there are a few promising 'red shoots'.

Some of the article I agree with, some I don't.

I don't, for example, agree with Treen's  'once over  lightly' approach to the British Socialist Workers' Party. This is a party that has  lost hundreds of members  as a result of the central committee's attempt to bury a rape complaint against a senior member.

For Treen to characterise  this simply  'as a deep-going crisis inside the British SWP that is producing a sophisticated discussion on the relationship between reform and revolution' really isn't good enough.

He  betrays  his obvious sympathies for the sectarian SWP  by avoiding mentioning  the International Socialist Network that has emerged out of the SWP's failure.

The ISN is in discussion with other British  socialist organisations to form a new party. This development offers more for socialist politics than anything the discredited SWP can offer.

I would of thought that the effort to create  a united, plural and heterodox revolutionary tendency on the left in Britain was an emerging  'red shoot'?

Mike  Treen's comments on Russell Brand's call for a new revolutionary politics is also worthy of comment. Writes Treen:

Whilst I don’t accept Brand’s argument that we shouldn’t bother to vote I have a lot of sympathy for where he is coming from. A big reason why many people have stopped voting is that they have experience after experience of governments (of either the traditional right or left) which carry out policies that seem only designed to protect the rich and screw the rest of us. Often they carry out policies that are the opposite of what they campaigned on.

Why does Treen dismiss  the idea of not voting, especially since it is all the rage in New Zealand?  It is tokenistic for him to say that he has a lot of sympathy  for such a view but only to the point that it isn't carried out.

The reason  is that Unite, a supporter of the Mana Party, has fallen in behind the bid to get a
Labour-Green-Mana government elected next year. Rather than beginning the hard work of building a new left movement in New Zealand, we're being offered the politics of minimal gain and no vision.

Labour has no intention of upsetting the neoliberal applecart  and has made that abundantly clear on several occasions.

Unlike Mike Treen and Unite  it seems, the electorate has sussed this out. The June  Rawhiti-Ikaroa by election saw  nearly 23,000 eligible voters decide not to vote.The combined vote for all the candidates was just 10,000 votes. Mana itself got just 2,600 votes - not quite 'the big night' that the Daily Blog editor Martyn Bradbury had been predicting.

What we know is  that Mana often talks alternative and appears alternative, but it clear that the Mana leadership will do a deal with Labour. This has become Mana's default setting.  Treen wants people to vote for this bowl of cold gruel and the campaign to make people vote for it  will obviously pick up come 2014.

It is clear that much of the electorate   have adopted a critical attitude to the real sources of the social and economic problems that they confront everyday. For Treen to suggest that the solution is a Labour-Green- Mana government in 2014 is nonsense and betrays a lack of real political will to break with Labour.

Ironically he condemns the Australian union movement for having  allowed itself to be in the 'death grip' of the pro-capitalist Labour Party machine but he doesn't offer a similar criticism for the bureaucrats who control the New Zealand union movement. Given that Unite is supporting Labour - via Mana - that probably wouldn't be a good look.


  1. This is all a bit silly.

    My article was not a discussion of the British SWP with whom I have strong differences. If you had bothered to look you would have noticed that the article I linked to was by a non-member of the SWP polemicising against their views. The positive development I point to is the projected new left party which is being supported by the currents you seem to favour and the SWP is much less enthusiastic.

    I have not supported a vote for the Labour Party in New Zealand since 1984. I have supported New Labour or the Alliance and now Mana. In each case I have viewed them as steps towards an independent working class voice in New Zealand politics. I do not support Mana joining a Labour-led government.

    I suggest you cease sectarian point scoring and try and engage in debates in a serious manner. It will prove more productive for all concerned.

    I am sure I have differences with you. However generally they are not on the issues you are trying to pick a fight with me over.

    Mike Treen

  2. It's disappointing that you choose to beat me with the 'sectarian' stick when my criticisms are legitimate.

    Any genuine survey of new left developments should have explicitly mentioned the ISN, Socialist Resistance and Left Unity. Instead you chose to highlight - positively - the SWP for reasons that escape me.

    While I accept you personally don't support Mana joining a Labour-led government does Unite Union support the election of a Labour-Green-Mana government? How would this be 'pro-worker'? Why does Unite continue to sponsor a website that lauds David Cunliffe and the Labour Party but shuts out any dissenting socialist voices?

    Why does the CTU escape criticism for being in the 'death grip' of the Labour Party? Or is that criticism only reserved for the Australian union movement?

    You might want to stifle such debate as 'sectarian' but I think Mana's 'pro-worker' credentials have been very much been exaggerated and serve only to give ideological cover to the Labour Party.

  3. It was just a few weeks ago that Treen wrote an article on The Daily Blog that outlined his approach to Labour. He harbours illusions of forcing Labour to the left:

    'The only way there would be a hope for David Cunliffe and co to stand up against big business in government would be if we had had a massively organised and mobilised working class movement that had an interest in the promised reforms happening.'

    This is nothing more than attempt to supposedly 'reconquer' Labour, as if the last thirty years of neoliberalism had never happened. This makes Treen little better than Martyn Bradbury or Chris Trotter. Mike - ordinary people have no stomach for this.

    It all gets 'very silly' when Treen admits that Cunliffe is no socialist but he can supposedly be pushed to the left. Of course what Treen decribes as 'left' may not be very 'left' at all, given his silence on the CTU's 'cosy' relationship with the Labour leadership.

    At some stage you have to make an historical judgement about Labour. Of course Labour never was a socialist party, but the prospects in any foreseeable future of it regenerating as even a party of mild welfarism must be counted as practically zero and generating illusions about pushing Labour to the left are not helpful.

    In Britain the socialist left have decided that it is time to forge a new broad left party. Unfortunately here in NZ people like Mike Treen want to reconquer a party that is politically bankrupt and a political dead end.

    But, then, I'm - like Steve - just a 'sectarian'.


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