New Zealand labour party

Democracy in danger.How do we relearn to work together?

No I am not talking about uniting the NZLabour Party or the UKLabour Party: I am talking about the community.As neighbours, workmates, friends we have to relearn how to work together on common issues.

Our grandparents in the 1930’s joined unions, co-operatives, political parties. In the 1960’s some of us joined communes and set up alternative schools. But since the 1960’s these “teams” have been weakened. Union membership has fallen.

Membership of political parties has fallen dramatically in England and in New Zealand.

Society has been individualised.

Competition has been sanctified.

Co-operation has been demonised… is winner takes all.

The result has been that individuals struggle for themselves and their immediate families. Rarely do they have many successes, because they are often alone in a never-ending struggle.

Unions and political parties have become machines distant from the average citizen. A comparatively small group works enthusiastically FOR others, but not WITH the disengaged. And we end up with little participation in the political process, because it has no impact on our immediate lives. Last election in New Zealand in September 2014 a quarter of the voters on the roll did not vote. But almost that number again did not enrol.So we have serious disengagement.

We need to close the gap between those engaged in our Party and those who we think want houses, jobs, good health and effective education but who do not talk with us. Lobbyists and NGOs do, but probably one third of New Zealanders do not vote, because we are seen as irrelevant to their struggles.

As a retired teacher ( and MP) I am ineligible to work for more effective unions, but I can still work for an effective political mechanism.

Imagine an electorate with about thirty communities, each undertaking an issue agreed by that community and making some progress.It might be finding a local community answer to elder loneliness, or working with local council to provide safety for cyclists. But it should be an issue/problem that can be improved by community working together.

Taking that first step will be difficult. And we, the political activists will need to support each other.We want to build a series of communities in which people work together and achieve their aims.

In supporting each other, maybe representatives of each of those communities meet regularly to share their stories and experiences.

My aim is not just to reconnect the Labour Party, but to rebuild successful political activity.

If any readers have other models for reconnecting members of our communities to different ways of working together please respond.

I am seriously worried about disengagement. Those who have power are not interested in sharing. It is those who do not have power that we need to work with. Otherwise divided we are being rolled by those who have the power for the few.


4 thoughts on “Democracy in danger.How do we relearn to work together?

  1. Janette Walker says:

    Marion, What you have said is similar to some ideas I have been thinking about.Traditionally Labour Party has developed out of collective activity.People identified themselves as part of a community or through work group,unions.Individuals collectively had an identity.The Labour Party based on traditional collective values.We also had a class structure which served to place people, adding further collective identity. Society has changed, become more individualistic,education has made people more mobile and class structures blurred.Because collective connections have diminished, having a Labour Party based on collective solidarity no longer resonates for many people and neo liberal,individualistic philosophy fits better.Agree with your thoughts about localised community action,but wonder if Labour needs to reframe what collective political activism really means.Maybe Labour needs to modernise the collective conversation.Just a few thoughts.

    • Janette, thanks for those thoughtful comments. I want collective action, because by working together we gather strength ( not might is right) but we gather the range of perspectives. BUT BUT BUT i think our collective structures are too clunky, too obscure, too remote from people. We do need to review how we connect and argue. So yes I agree. PS i loved your campaign!

  2. Pat Webster says:

    Marion, Its great to see these issues being raised – I have put together a few thoughts sparked by your post – When I was involved in Local Body political organising in Wellington in 1983 The Labour Local Body Committee got together after that year’s election and decided that we needed to work more on community connection (nothing new under the sun really!!!). Some of us joined existing groups – I joined my local Progressive Association, others got together to campaign around an issue of concern across the community – John Blincoe got involved in the Sewage Disposal issue that was a big problem in Wellington then. It all worked really well for a time. John was elected to Council on the strength of that campaign, as was Jim Belich who ran for mayor and whose advertising company thought up an iconic toilet on the beach poster. For me, I got the Progressive Association involved in helping to save the Ngaio Railway Settlement for the Railways workers who had lived in the houses, we got a new Library, safer main street and stopped a marginal sudivision development – small local things but important in their way.

    ON reflection we did all that on a tide of activism and concern around some really big issues in the early 80s – but I sometimes see that as the big wave hitting the beach and then dying out – times were changing with more women in the workforce and all that neo-liberal change that focussed people on making money and working all hours of the day and night – and of course the technological change which has shifted the way we communicate with each other. I have just been studying three very disparate voluntary organisations for a thesis and the period from 1985 has changed even the nature of volunteering in these organisations. Now its all managed by professional staff – so while people still engage, it tends to be more instrumental, project focussed and time limited – fewer people commit themselves to organisations for the long term. The politics has been taken out of what people do (I don’t mean party politics – but the kind that focusses on smaller change and links to Party politics) But this is what you are trying to address really.

    What I want to raise is that there are still lots of community groups out there already trying to do things but needing people. In Nelson we have a very good Housing Trust – a good Community Centre in one of the poorest areas. We have a Stopping Violence Group and a Refugee and Migrant group among all the vast array of health and social service groups that have been around for ever. These are the people working “with”. There is even a group that meets once a month to discuss the nature of community-led development. There is a monthly meeting when all these groups get together to share what we are doing. I have found that I can play a role, as part of the group, by bringing a small “p” political perspective to those gatherings – that helps to connect the very pressing day to day issues that most people understand but have little time to deal with, and which, at times, can be overwhelming, with action. We have small group that brings those who are interested together to connect the dots and which organises the activity and action around it. Someone has just held a meeting to try to connect even more people in the wider community to do what you are talking about. They are focussing on communicating issues. I think the biggest challenge is the one you raise about individualism. In this technological world, we need to be thinking about how to use technology to support human contact, promoting people getting together. Although, just as a side thought – was it not interesting how the petrol company that were docking worker’s wages when people skipped paying at pumps was brought to heel by media and communication – a bit like a flash mob union organising effort! I’d be interested to know how that story got started because there is a lesson in it somewhere.

    • Pat, you darling. I think it comes with memory. That work you did in Wellington probably led to the strong Labour/Green commitment in Wellington. That and being a city where many work at change in their working lives. So thank you for commenting: it helps strengthen my argument that we need to rebuild trust and connection with political action.
      I love the model you have in Wellington. Since coming to Dunedin, I have been joining various groups…but I think the Nelson concept of the groups working together is one I want to pursue.
      And media which we use is part of the way of connecting and building, as long as it is honest and not manipulative.
      Please keep in touch.


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