Labour – whose side are you on? Time to come clean on welfare & jobs

By Sue Bradford of AAAP

24 April 2013 for The Daily Blog

On another current political battleground, however, Labour remains as dubiously shifty as ever. When it comes to welfare and jobs, I still have no clue as to where Labour stands in the face of the Bennett-Rebstock rampage.

It was great to see Labour and the Green Party come out with their proposal for a single state-owned buyer of electricity last week.

Ah hah, I thought. At last Labour – perhaps spurred on by their new best friends the Greens – have found some courage. And lovely to see John Key accusing the two parties of sabotage and ‘far-Left’ politics. Couldn’t be further from the truth, but it lifts the spirits to see some spark finally emerging from the centre left.

On the electricity front, the big question of course is whether Labour and the Greens will actually action their proposal once they’re warming the government benches. I remember all too well how Labour lost its bottle on the employment relations front in the face of massive business opposition in the winter of 2000, despite a recent election victory and the Alliance being part of that government.

But good luck to them, and may both parties remain true to their single-buyer promise.

On another current political battleground, however, Labour remains as dubiously shifty as ever. When it comes to welfare and jobs, I still have no clue as to where Labour stands in the face of the Bennett-Rebstock rampage.

Well meaning MPs like Jacinda Ardern and Carol Beaumont make resounding speeches in the House opposing National’s brutal welfare bills.

However, what many of us out here in the real world really want to know is whether Labour will legislate to overturn the reforms in all their awful detail when their party becomes part of government again?
There has been no clear statement on this from Labour at any point.

Over the last few decades, Labour has been as culpable as National when it comes to its approach to welfare and decent job creation.

Roger Douglas and co in the 1980s methodically wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs, decimated small town New Zealand, ended full wage job creation schemes (now looked back on with great fondness by many in districts currently hard hit by unemployment) and began the first work for dole scheme since the Depression.

Labour in the 2000s never even attempted to lift benefit levels to their equivalent before National’s 1991 cuts; got rid of the Special Benefit which made the difference between survival and desperate penury for many; reintroduced no-go zones in a number of rural and provincial areas, making it even harder for working age people to stay in or return to their home districts; established massive structural discrimination against the children of beneficiaries via the In Work Tax Credit portion of Working for Families; and undermined in legislation the very purpose of social security as established by their forebears in 1938.

Paula Bennett and John Key have ridden in on the back of Labour’s 2000s welfare changes to cement in a culture and practice which foments our country’s unfortunate disposition towards hatred of beneficiaries, as evidenced by the recent report showing that those dependent on income support are now the most discriminated against group of people in Aotearoa.

Last week a Labour MP told me that her party does not plan to make any announcements on welfare policy till some time not long before the 2014 election.

That’s just not good enough.

David Shearer’s sickness beneficiary on a roof speech was naively revealing of his true feelings about beneficiaries. His lack of regret since then about what he said and how he said it simply shows that he, too, buys into the blind prejudice so prevalent in our communities.

In the face of Shearer’s speech and the lack of any commitment to turn back National’s reforms, every day that goes by only deepens the sense that Labour is still stuck in the same conservative, blinkered space on welfare and jobs.

We need a clear positioning statement soon, or the suspicion will be that Labour is going to carry on as usual, perhaps making small superficial changes for the better, but not dealing with the finely tuned cruelty of our complex welfare system and the total lack of any Government commitment to full wage job creation.

I challenge Labour to tell us where you really stand, well before election year.

Come clean on whether you’ll wipe out the Nats’ reforms of the past two years, or let them ride.
Show us that you’re interested in real solutions on welfare, poverty and unemployment, like full wage job creation, the fair application of Working for Families to all children, and a move towards a Universal Basic Income.

People are suffering now, day in and day out, and once the impacts of the latest social security legislation come into force, that suffering is only going to deepen.

I’d love to see your party apply a little intelligence to the situation, rather than blind prejudice.

The pledge to establish a single buyer of electricity is well and good, but how about showing some courage on another, more desperate front, and recall on whose votes the Labour Party first rode to power – the unemployed workers of the 1930s.