21 October 2011

The return of class politics?

Athens is on strike. After all, why not? Why should Greek public-sector workers pay the price for other people’s greed and dishonesty? Even the Greek judges are working to rule. Middle-Eastern dictators are falling, or have fallen, and one has just been killed. Tens of thousands of students are protesting in Chile. The Occupy Wall St movement has spread to cities all over the globe. The latter are mainly peaceful protests (Rome was an exception), but their main point (‘capitalism has let us down,’ to put it mildly) gains quiet consent from a wide range of the world’s middle classes.

Back home in Godzone, the recently-unthinkable has suddenly become an election issue. Economic inequality is said (by almost everyone now) to be a bad thing; and the Labour Party (after years of abandoning class in favour of identity politics) has said we need to stop applying the ‘let the market decide’ principle to wages, and instead to raise the minimum wage, and to apply industry-wide terms and conditions of employment, overseen by a Workplace Commission. It sounds a bit like the system that we had from 1893 to 1987.

Business-class critics and their newsroom scribes say Labour's policy would take us back only as far as the 1970s, though (‘gruesome echoes of the unlovely 1970s’ as the scaremongering Press put it) – as if the situation of the average New Zealander were worse then, with national awards, than it is now!

Meanwhile, Mr Key and his party have suffered a series of blows to their credibility (e.g.: What were the SAS doing in Afghanistan? Did the PM knowingly mislead the House about what S&P think? Do asset-sales not mean a huge gift to the rich?), and so they find themselves fighting fires (and mopping up oil). This is probably not enough (yet) to spoil their chances of regaining office, but that absolute majority in the House that they were hoping for looks less probable by the day.

The playing-field of politics is changing shape. Can political parties come up with sensible responses? Do they even understand what’s going on?

More on this next week…


Post a Comment

<< Home