New Zealand goes to the polls on 17 September to elect a new government. A close look at the parties shows that, from a working class point of view, there remains nothing to choose from between Labour and the opposition National Party. For instance, Labour, worried by slipping support,have announced a vote-catching policy of cancelling interest on student loans. Yet the accumulated student debt of $7 billion is a result of “user pays” policies introduced by Labour in the 1980s and pursued and extended by National Party through the following decade.
NZ Workers have tried, with some limited success to make up lost ground through strike action, from transport to health services. But wages have remained stagnant over the last few years, often falling behind the steadily rising cost of living. Economic growth is slowing and one in five children live in poverty. Interest rates are at a record high of 6.75% and house prices are ranked fifth highest in a recent Economist survey of 20 countries. Meanwhile the largest companies routinely announce bumper profits and the net wealth of the 205 richest individuals has increased 300% since Labour came to office. Still business leaders are demanding a cut in company tax from 33% to 30%. The National Party promises to oblige.
The Council of Trade Unions desperately tries to muster support for the government”s “protections for ordinary people” such as a fourth week of annual leave (but not until 2007) and increases in the minimum wage (at $9.50 an hour for over 18s, still a mere 47% of the average wage).
The smaller parties jockey for power between and around the National-Labour axis without much reference to political principle.
Thus the Maori Party, recently formed by a split from Labour, has expressed a willingness to work with National. The balance of power may well be held by New Zealand First, which uses anti immigrant demagogy to mop up votes from disaffected National supporters.
Standing in lone opposition to these cynical bourgeois parties, the Anti Capitalist Alliance is intervening on a platform of basic working class demands, including withdrawal of NZ troops from Afghanistan and abolition of General Sales Tax (unlike VAT in the UK, there are no exclusions for basic family items).
Unfortunately, the ACA has not managed to get on the party list, so can attract votes only in the eight electorate constituencies nationwide in which they are standing candidates. But this small start may yet represent the best hope for a class struggle-based workers’ party in New Zealand.