Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 36, No 11 May 30th, 1973
Lee Kuan Kirk At The Victory Rally
Lee Kuan Kirk At The Victory Rally
"If we push a little hard I we may enable our leader, Norman kirk, to emulate Lee Kuan Yew and become the leader of a one party government."
The first time Labour Party President Charles Bennet said this at the party's recent conference it was not clear whether he was offering the rank and file a glorious vision or a sick joke. As if to clear up any doubt on the question, Bennet enthusiastically repeated the comment the next day after the conference had heard speeches from the F.O.L.'s Skinner and Knox.
Singapore's Social Fascism
In itself there is nothing ridiculous in the suggestion that Kirk might follow Lee Kuan Yew in deeming political opponents as superfluous as long hair. What caused Kirk to blush and hide behind his hand was not so much the goal Bennet espoused, but the fact that he should be so unsubtle as to declare it openly.
The point is, of course, that Lee Kuan Yew achieved a one party government and 'industrial harmony' in Singapore not through "democratic socialism' but by fascist methods, locking up political opponents and labour leaders and outlawing strikes.
Kirk and the Parliamentary Labour Party dominated the Conference from beginning to end. If there was even less vitality in the debates than usual it was because delegates were made well aware that Labour's election mandate towered over any directions they might attempt to offer the Parliamentary Party. Throughout the conference numerous speakers referred to the need to 'get on and implement the Election Manifesto", spurning any attempt to fiddle with its provisions. Paradoxically, Labour's victory at the polls, far from opening up new possibilities for the party's rank and file, weighed on them as the most severe restriction on their ability to criticise.
Prime Minister Shifts Debate
Kirk was present at nearly every session of the conference after monopolising the debate at the Foreign Affairs remit committee to ensure that no remits opposing government policy were adopted. Three times he stepped in to suppress what he no doubt considered unhealthy debate.
On the first occasion it was to stifle a call for recognition of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on an equal basis with the Thieu regime in Saigon. This move was completely in line with the provisions of the Paris Peace Agreement signed by those three parties and the United States. It was therefore ironic when Kirk, in a piece of cheap demagoguery, accused the advocates of recognition of the P.R.G. and D.R.V. of "damned meddling" and "telling the Vietnamese what to do".
Quite correctly, Kirk accused the advocates of recognition of the P.R.G. in particular, of attempting to "add to the political opportunities of the P.R.G." But he did not, of course, draw from his own statement the most obvious conclusion: that only be recognising both parties in South Vietnam could New Zealand avoid adding to the "political opportunities" of one party over the other.
No D.R.V. Forces in Cambodia
At present the Labour Government continues to assist and provide political support to the Thieu regime by recognising it exclusively. No wonder then that Krik sought to minimise Thieu's fascist treatment of political prisoners in the south. Kirks rationalisation for not recognising North Vietnam is that the D.R.V. has violated the ceasefire agreement by 'invading' Cambodia. At the behest of the right-wing leader of the Electrical Workers Union. Tony Neary, the F.O.L. Conference condemned the invasion' without any opposition. The invasion' is one of the U.S. State Department's most ham fisted propaganda stories because, according to the April 19—25 weekly selection of Le Monde, U.S. Embassy officials in Phnom Penh have stated that there is no evidence that Vietnamese communist troops are supporting the anti-Lon Nol forces in Cambodia.
One interesting aspect of the Labour Party conference debate on Vietnam was that only Michael Bassett, M.P. for Waitemata, came forward from the young "progressive" Labour M.P.s to support recognition of the D.R.V. and eventually the P.R.G. The rest were obviously too busy "piddling in Norm Kirk's pocket" as a delegate from Auckland put it.
Union Hack Embarrassed
Kirk's second intervention came when the conference was debating a recommendation from one of the Constitutional Committee's relating to selection procedures for parliamentary candidates. While the committee's chairman Brian Landers, a trade unionist and long standing party hack, tried to hide under the table to conceal his embarrassment. Kirk simply substituted his own recommendation.
The third intervention was prompted by irresponsible people like Michael Hirschfield of the Ice Cream Workers' Union, who suggested that there was some incompatibility between democracy and the Security Service. Norm reassured the conference that the matter was well in hand, and cleverly diverted the debate by making a long speech about the right of privacy. He concluded with a couple of jokes at the expense of Brigadier Gilbert, and referred to the allegations that a certain Mr Carr had been assigned by the Security Service to tail the North Vietnamese delegation that visited New Zealand in February. Kirk said he had approached the S.S. on this question and they had assured him that Carr was working for a "weekly newspaper".
In stating this Kirk misled, the conference. Kirk had been informed by the Wellington Journalists Union that none of its members had been involved in tailing the delegation. Furthermore Truth had published a statement that none of its employees had interfered with the delegation In view of these denials it would be interesting to know why Kirk has persisted in blaming Carr's activities on "a weekly newspaper", and how did the S.S. know Carr was "tailing the delegation for a weekly newspaper?"
"Some People Call Me God"
A remit which proposed streamlining party organisation at the electorate and district levels turned out to be a satire on the call for unity between the industrial and political wings of the labour movement issued at the conference earlier by Tom "some people call me God" Skinner. The remit suggested the abolition of Inter-branch councils and Divisional Area Councils and their replacement by single electorate L.R.C.s and Regional Councils.
In the debate that ensued the liberal academics of the political wing clashed head on with trade union leaders who saw the remit as an attempt to undermine their influence in the party. The unionists forced a card vote on the remit and defeated it by 64 votes, thus displaying the great voting strength concentrated in a few trade union hands. One delegate found it altogether too much and challenged the validity of the Engineers' Union vote, which is one of the largest at the conference. The Engineers leader Reg Jones angrily rose to validate his union's position and in doing so made it clear that he considered it impudent for some "twit" to challenge it.
Rank and File Disenfranchised
Many branch delegates were annoyed at seeing unionists like Jones throwing their voting strength around. This antipathy arose not from anti-union feeling but because of the nature of union re-presentation at Labour Party Conferences. In the main union delegates are elected, or appointed, not by the rank and file but by union executives. As a consequence most of the union delegates are union officials. With Communists and Socialist Unity Party members automatically excluded under the Labour Party Constitution, almost all the unionists who rise to positions of power in the party do so because of faithful service to the parliamentary leadership, and their union's voting strength.
Although some right-wing trade union leaders felt threatened by the academics' moves to streamline the party it was obvious that they will enjoy a privileged place in Labour's industrial relations policy. In his address to the conference Labour Minister Hugh Watt stressed the need for unity between the party and the trade union movement in solving industrial problems. He was later supported by Tom Skinner who pointed out metaphorically that a bird which doesn't fly on both wings has trouble keeping on an even keel.
It seems quite apparent that Labour's substitute for the Stabilisation of Remuneration Bill and the harsh penal clauses of the National Government's Industrial Relations Bill is going to be an alliance with the right-wing of the Trade Union movement to effectively stifle any union, or section of workers, who threaten to rock the boat.
At the F.O.L. Conference Skinner stressed the need for trade unions to act 'responsibly'. "The Government has taken over the economy poised in a difficult position... it would be easy to push it into another recession that would hurt everyone. Those who have the interests of New Zealand at heart would want to avoid this, and by responsible action they can avoid it particularly by following courses of negotiation and settlement of disputes without recourse to work stoppages, unless there is no course left open to them".
The Labour Party and the F.O.L.'s present industrial policy is merely a repeat of what happened in the 1940's. At that time the boss of the F.O.L., Fintan Patrick Walsh, was head of the Stabilisation Commission which played a very important part in running the economy. Walsh managed to keep the unions submissive until 1949 when the Auckland Carpenters Union rebelled. Then Walsh combined with the leaders of the Labour Government, Peter Fraser and Walter Nash, to smash the carpenters.
Any union which wants to buck the present industrial policy will face the opposition of employers, the Federation of Labour executive, the right-wingers who control Trades Hall and, lurking behind everything, Lee Kuan Kirk.