What's Left? 2011

What’s Left? 2011

Sat 30 July 2011


Erik Olssen, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Otago, & author of numerous publications in labour history.

Peter Franks, author of numerous publications in labour history, & labour activist

Margaret Wilson, Professor of Law & Public Policy, Waikato University, formerly Speaker of Parliament, Minister for Labour & other portfolios, & president of the Labour Party

The New Zealand labour movement has been a progressive force in the industrial and political spheres since the 1840s, when the first trade society appeared and the 8 hour day was established in Dunedin. By the early 20th century New Zealand was seen internationally as a “social laboratory”, not least because of its industrial relations legislation, strong unions and entry of “workingmen’s representatives” into national parliament. The first Labour government of 1935 introduced extensive social reforms that laid a foundation for one of the most egalitarian societies in the world. Labour has since held office for 35 out of 65 years, and until the 1990s New Zealand unions had one of the highest membership densities in the world.

However, since the 1980s Labour governments have been influenced by neo-liberal policies for privatisation and market deregulation, and trade unions’ membership has declined dramatically. New Zealand is no longer an egalitarian society. These changes have occurred throughout the world. Industrially and politically, labour movements in the developed countries are weaker than they have been for almost a century, and ideologically they have struggled to develop alternatives for market liberalism as traditional concepts of state socialism have been substantially discredited.

How does history help us to understand this situation and to answer the following questions?

What is the future for the labour movement?

What strategies and policies might the labour movement develop to arrest its decline?

Will Labour remain confined to “market liberalism lite”, or can it generate a new social vision?

Join us to discuss these questions & listen to the views of our speakers.