Unique New Zealand
New Zealand’s development has perhaps been unique in two fields. First, certain reforms were achieved in New Zealand at a very early stage. As early as 1879 men had the vote, and by 1893 women were also entitled to vote. But even today certain restrictions are placed upon Maori voting. By 1894 New Zealand was the first country in the world to have established the system of compulsory state arbitration for fixing wages and settling industrial disputes. This was a retrograde step as far as the workers were concerned, for as all class-conscious workers know, in practice, courts for fixing wages etc. are there purely to prevent workers from striking as further pressure for their claims. Arbitration courts are often long-winded and the capitalist knows that the majority of workers can be distracted from their original determination if things drag on too long.
These early reforms and others, like the eight-hour day in 1897, plus a restricted programme of immigration (thereby maintaining a fairly full state of employment) have tended to give the New Zealander a false sense of security.
As well as long hours of overtime and wives going to work, secondary employment has become to the New Zealander an accepted way of life. He has his house, car, and washing machine, but the price has been high, New Zealand being only second to America in the number of hours worked per head of population. The veneer of affluence, like that of any so-called affluent country, for the working class is very thin.
The second unique aspect of New Zealand’s development is that it has been a farming community from the start and has remained so ever since. This can be a very precarious situation since New Zealand’s exports, the greatest bulk of which go to Britain, are made up almost wholly of agricultural produce—meat, wool, tallow, butter, cheese, powdered milk, and some timber.
Reading an extract from The New Zealand Trades Alphabet, 1968 edition, we can see just how far New Zealand is committed to agriculture as a means of overseas earnings, and to Britain as the buyer.
For more than a century, Britain and New Zealand have been trading partners. New Zealand, whose whole economy is based on our ability to produce cheap foodstuffs, has sold them to Britain in return for goods and services we cannot provide for ourselves. The money which changes hands in trade between New Zealand and Britain now exceeds $860 million a year.
New Zealand’s farming industry has been developed primarily to suit British needs and tastes, and Britain now buys some 85 per cent of New Zealand’s butter exports, 92 per cent of the lamb, and 78 per cent of the cheese. Last year sales of these three products were worth $216 million, or 30 per cent of this country’s total export earnings. Outside Britain there is simply no substantial market open for any of them.
It is no wonder then that the clouds of economic anxiety began to gather over New Zealand when in 1958 the European Economic Community or Common Market was formed.
Looking at New Zealand over the past few years, one can sense the air of change. Unemployment has crept into existence, something until recently almost unheard of, and while the government tries to tell us that today we are back to full employment it fails to take into consideration the 11,064 persons that constituted a population loss to New Zealand in 1968, (see Auckland Star, December 10, 1968). Industrial unrest has been greater than ever as workers are trying to maintain their standard of living. Big mergers are taking place with almost indecent haste to constitute a position of strength for the struggle that is almost inevitable. We see Mr Holyoake a very worried man, chasing around the world talking and almost pleading with prime ministers of various Common Market countries in a puny effort to try to avert the disaster that could come to New Zealand if Britain joins the Common Market. We can see a great need for trade union solidarity. But most of all, if there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is that we can see a greater than ever need for socialist organisation for the overthrow of capitalism.
Socialist Party of New Zealand.