New Zealand: Matt McCarten for Mana! It's time for a new left

In a wide-ranging Radio New Zealand interview on October 17, 2010, Matt McCarten discusses atheism, socialism, neoliberalism, the IWW, working class history and the need for a new left party.

Listen here | Download here (45 mins)

For the latest on Matt's campaign, visit http://www.matt4mana

By Joe Carolan

October 26, 2010 -- Socialist Aotearoa -- In a daring and audacious move, Matt McCarten, general secretary of the Unite Union, announced his candidacy in the November 20, 2010, Mana by-election in Wellington. Matt has had a quarter of century experience fighting for New Zealand's poorest workers, and was a founding member of both the New Labour Party and the Alliance. Now standing as a member of the independent left, he would make an excellent champion for the thousands of low-paid and unemployed workers in Mana.

Support for Matt has come in from many members of other trade unions, as well as most of the organisations of the socialist left, who worked hard together in last year's Campaign for a Living Wage Referendum push. That campaign got over 200,000 signatures of support to immediately raise the minimum wage in New Zealand to $15 an hour, and then to two-thirds of the average industrial wage subsequently. It was also successful in getting the independent left out into the housing estates, markets and workplaces, co-operating in struggle together.

The New Zealand Labour Party has held this seat since the 1930s and has done little to alleviate the poverty there. The escalating attacks on the working class in New Zealand requires the serious left to look for political as well as industrial solutions. The Labour Party just won't cut it. Under the leadership of Phil Goff, Labour will be lucky to clear 35% in next year's election. In the War of the Hobbit, they can't even decide which side they're on. Labour a centrist, liberal party that lost the last election because it ignored its working-class base -- he kind of people who live in Mana.

Socialists will campaign hard for Matt and for the people of Mana in the next month -- for decent state housing, for affordable public transport, for a living wage, full employment and a planned economy. The free market economics that people like Phil Goff unleashed inthe 1980s have failed New Zealand. It's time for a new left. Matt for Mana!

Mana campaign introduction

By Matt McCarten

The Unite Union has announced its endorsement of its general secretary Matt McCarten to contest the Mana by-election. McCarten is required to contest the election as an independent.

The Unite Union has been at the forefront of campaigning for low income workers in New Zealand over several years.

This government over the last year has launched attacks on workers that include the right for any worker to be sacked without notice or reason on the whim of an employer. In addition they are restricting the rights of workers by restricting union access to their members. The sale of holiday entitlements is only the start of claw backs for vulnerable workers. The cravenness of John Key to the US owners of the Hobbit films to even change our employment laws says it all.

Unite launched a campaign over a year ago to win $15 an hour minimum for every worker. Two hundred thousand New Zealanders have signed our petition. Unite intends to make raising wages a central issue for the by-Election and will seek the support of all the candidates.

This government has no economic plan and just hopes that somehow the international markets will come to our rescue. They won’t.

By-elections are democratic processes where not only will they elect a new MP but they have an opportunity to send a message to parliament. Unite intends to do that.

We have been supportive of Labour’s long overdue realisation that the new-right agenda implemented by their party and carried on by National have been a disaster for New Zealand. But we have been disappointed at their timidity over what the alternatives could be.

My candidature will give the people of Mana strong alternatives that roll back the failed ideology of the past 25 years.

We intend to run on three main platforms and seek a mandate from the voters of Mana:

1. $15 per hour minimum wage NOW. Raising wages is central to the campaign. The practical way to close the wage gap with Australia is by legislating for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. If I win we will see that as a mandate to have a royal commission set up to enquire into what income a worker on 40 hours would need to live with dignity. Once established then appropriate economic and employment policy would be needed to ensure this happens. During the next three weeks we will seek to have a majority of the people of Mana to sign our petition to raise the minimum wage to $15 immediately. The cabinet currently is reviewing the minimum wage and we want a strong message sent to them from the voters of Mana.

2. Jobs. The free market won’t reduce unemployment. Government intervention is required to do that. Mana like every other electorate has about 3000 official unemployed. The dignity of meaningful work is an economic good in itself. To employ 3000 on $15 an hour in full-time work costs less than $100 million a year net. After giving over $1.6 billion of our money to South Canterbury Finance it’s clear it’s not about have we got the money, it’s about priorities. I want a strong message sent that no one gets the dole. The government will invest in jobs. In Mana we could put two teachers’ aides into very classrooms creating almost 1000 jobs. We could get the Wananga to train 500 young unemployed in basic building skills and set them up to repair and upgrade run down state houses. We can get another 500 into home help for senior citizens and the sick. It’s not science; it’s whether we have the will.

3. Taxes. The burden of paying the bills has dramatically shifted to the from the asset wealthy and high incomes to the middle- and low-income New Zealanders. The GST is one of those taxes. Labour's weak response is disappointing. I will release an alternative tax policy in the campaign to start the discussion off. Frankly the GST has to go and an alternative like the financial transaction tax (now enjoying popular support overseas as the Robin Hood tax) is fairer and more efficient.

I will also release policy discussion papers during the campaign on economic planning that includes foreign investment and immigration, and workers’ rights, to start a discussion for areas that are clearly failing.

I intend to run a strong aggressive campaign and put the two main candidates under some pressure to work for their votes and ask them to respond to the above three platforms. While I will target the National Party (as the villains of course) Labour also has to engage in meaningful debate rather than generalisations.

The other candidates. All the candidates are fine people and are to be congratulated for offering themselves. But this by-election isn’t about them or me. It’s about the people of Mana and the rest of New Zealand. I intend to engage in serious debate and persuade the people of Mana to send a big message to parliament to elect me as their representative to parliament on November 20.

New left rallies its forces to take on the new right

By Matt McCarten

October 25, 2010 -- Herald on Sunday via Unity -- After two years it seemed the left was never going to get a break. I’m stoked to announce we have got it at last.

Two weekends ago we had our first good news when the mayoral front-runners in our five major cities lost. The wins were significant politically in Auckland and Wellington.

Who would have thought a small grey man called Brown could arouse so much enthusiasm? Mind you, if the right relies on a grey man called John Key to keep their party in the stratosphere I guess we can swoon for Brown.

And just when the left were still hugging each other in delight, the Labour Party for the first time since who knows when got excited about being left wing again.

Labour Party president Andrew Little set the scene by giving a speech I’m sure he had always wanted to give.

No more “measured and responsible” nonsense that was the norm under Helen Clark’s regime. It was good rousing stuff. It wasn’t revolutionary -- that would be too much to expect -- but it showed Little’s real emotional connection to the workers’ cause.

Little’s example fired up the latent leftie sentiments still lurking in the faithful. Even Phil Goff got in on the act, revelling in his new role as the “left-wing” leader, dissing everything he once advocated for on behalf of his old boss Roger Douglas.

It was a bit forced and it was hard to swallow his Road to Damascus conversion. But I’ll play along for now.
But most of what the conference did mattered little. It was rather the universal acceptance by conference attendees that the new-right experiment was wrong and it’s now over.

As you’d expect, their alternatives were vague and weak. The answer to National’s GST hike -- to take it off some foods and keep it at 15 per cent for everything else -- is gimmicky. And the idea to extend allowances to help working families misses the point. The only answer to low wages is to increase them, not get other workers to subsidise low-wage-paying bosses, however well intentioned.

But what got me genuinely excited this week was that union workers turned out in their thousands in mass rallies around the country to protest the National-Act government’s anti-worker laws. They were the biggest in 20 years. Workers know these new laws have no intention of “helping vulnerable workers” get jobs, as Key pretends.

Instead they are intended to make workers scared and compliant. The pretence from Key is over and the nastiness of this government is obvious.

If you had any doubt just look at the knee-jerk reaction from Key and his ministers who couldn’t help themselves from jumping into an “industrial dispute” and side with an international conglomerate against a small group of Kiwi actors.

The actors’ crime, it seems, is that they dared to ask their fellow actors to not work on a job until their overseas employer agreed to discuss their pathetic pay and conditions. No doubt after some ritual grovelling Key will agree to give the US film bosses who own the hobbits another big tax break.

Quite frankly until we make overseas and local employers accept their responsibilities to provide secure fulltime jobs on decent wages, we’ll continue to be serfs in our own country.

There are parallels between the hobbit-owners and the Rugby World Cup. Both events have had the Kiwi taxpayer fronting much of the money while the profits will be channelled into mostly overseas private hands, with low wages for the Kiwis who make it happen.

During the World Cup the international hotel chains will ride on the backs of our national sport, to which they contribute nothing. They will charge their guests 10 times their normal room rate, keep their workers’ pay rates to a minimum, then ship their massive windfall profit offshore.

After this week I see a change among the workers. Time for the hobbits to rise up. The fight for a living wage is engaged. John Key, your honeymoon is over.

Brian Rudman: Hobbit folk grovel to feudal movie lords

By Brian Rudman

5:30 AM Wednesday Oct 27, 2010

Not so long ago, the rest of the country guffawed at Wellington planning to rename itself Wellywood.

Now the whole country seems to have taken leave of its senses, demanding we rename New Zealand "Hobbiton" and elevate the Gnome of the Wairarapa, Sir Peter Jackson, to be our Lord and Master. Have we no sense of shame, or of the ridiculous?

On Monday, Samuel Parnell, the father of the eight-hour day, would have turned in his grave at the way the day set aside in his memory was desecrated. Up and down the land, crowds marched and rallied to pledge to be servile to a Hollywood movie conglomerate.

Down with the evil actors for asking for another plate of soup, they chanted. Off with the heads of the dastardly Aussie manipulators. The union leaders were simple womenfolk who should be back in the kitchen where they belong.

Parnell, a London carpenter, arrived in Wellington in 1840, in the same week the Treaty of Waitangi was being signed. A fellow passenger on the ship out, George Hunter, asked him to build him a store. Parnell told him there were 24 hours in the day - eight for work, eight for sleep and eight for recreation. Those were his conditions. So, the eight-hour working day dream was born.

On October 28, 1890, to mark the 50th anniversary of European settlement and the first birthday of the Maritime Council, the workers organisation, Labour Day was marked officially with marches in the main centres.

It was to celebrate the eight-hour working day and publicise workers' rights. Ten years later it became a statutory holiday with huge parades, picnics and sports days.

Sadly, the marchers on Monday know more about the fantasy lives of elves and goblins, and of the fabulous wealth of Sir Peter, than they do of the history of New Zealand. Few would have known how they came to have the public holiday that freed them for the day to indulge in their union-bashing activities.

So, on the 110th anniversary of a public holiday marking New Zealand's proud leadership in workers' rights, news beamed around the world of a nation rising up to plead with a movie magnate to forgive us for having a few wayward troublemakers in our midst with the temerity to be acting in the spirit of Parnell.

There they were, saying, "Tell us how long to grow our elven beards, and how hard to pull our forelocks, Sir, and we will do it. Straight after we burn those evil witches, Robyn Malcolm, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Helen Kelly, in the public square for disturbing the tranquillity of our feudal land."

Workers' rights have taken a battering over the past 30 years from successive governments, but every employee in the land should be concerned at the hammering the actors have got for daring to ask for meaningful negotiations.

We might have thought the television current affairs gurus would have brought a certain gravitas to the issues. But Paul Holmes on state television's so-called flagship current affairs show, Q and A, and John Campbell on TV3 a day or two before, appeared to have been issued super-strength hysteria pills before going on air.

Campbell beamed in live from a Hobbit doll's house he had to crouch to fit inside, gasping at every tearful word spluttered by the incandescent Lord of Hobbit, Sir Peter.

Holmes, sweat pouring down his face, making exasperated stage sighs to Camera 3, was so beside himself that the guilty womenfolk in the dock hardly had a chance to stammer out an uninterrupted word before he donned the black cap and dispatched them back to the kitchen.

I say womenfolk, because throughout the whole battle, the patronising sexism aimed at the union side - nice gals, but out of their depth, not up to it, dupes of Aussie svengalis - has been shameful.

Yesterday, South Pacific Pictures chief executive John Barnett was at it again: Robyn Malcolm was a "terrific actress" but the union had let her and Jennifer Ward-Lealand down. "They should not have let her go out and speak." Pardon? Who better than a terrific actor to speak on behalf of actors seeking a decent employment contract?

Amid the histrionics, it was a relief to read University of Otago employment law specialist Paul Roth, in Monday's Herald, warning what a Third-World country the Hobbit saga was showing us up to be.

He was reacting to Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee's warning to unionists that law changes might be in order.

Rather than being a First-World country, New Zealand was "teetering" on Third-World status, prepared to "basically lie back and prostitute ourselves to get more employment into this country". He complained that a movie-maker and money were driving possible law change, not principle or justice.

The Hobbit is about a bunch of peasants living simple feudal lives. The way we're behaving, where else but New Zealand could it be filmed?


Truly inspirational to meet supporters at Porirua market last Saturday. I will help all I can to deliver pamphlets. We just needed this leadership. Go Matt!