The First of May has long been celebrated by the workers of the world as International Workers Day, commemorating the struggle of the working class for freedom from wage slavery and for a socialist society run by and for workers. All around the world for over a century, Communists and trade unions have rallied together on May 1 – but this year, that could not take place. Even in Havana, famous for millions-strong May Day parades, the Workers Central Union of Cuba asked all Cubans to celebrate in their own houses this year. As this shows, the social effects of the novel Coronavirus reach far beyond the realm of public health. COVID-19 provides significant new challenges to the working-class movement, but also provides new opportunities for advances.
Ubiquitous throughout the COVID-19 response has been the words “essential worker”. It has become more clear that is not the bankers and the politicians that are essential for the functioning of our society, but members of the working class. Bus drivers, supermarket workers, nurses, cleaners, teachers, and so on all have pushed themselves harder than normal, and often put themselves at risk (thanks to lack of PPE supplies), to ensure that we could get through Level Four with minimal strife. The return to Level Three has created more de facto essential workers who are putting themselves at risk, such as the hospo workers making sure we all have the takeout options we want each night.
The working-class movement, in particular the trade unions, have played an incredibly important role in ensuring that all workers are given the best pay and working conditions during this difficult time. The Hospo Workers Union has issued a call for the government to provide all hospo businesses with PPE supplies where small owner-operators cannot provide adequate gear. The NCPA was proud to donate a small supply of PPE to the Hospo Workers Union to help with this problem on a small level. FIRST Union, which represents supermarket workers, has also been fighting against physical abuse directed at these workers, up 6x from pre-Coronavirus levels. FIRST has also begun a “Show Some Heart” campaign against the removal of the bonuses given to supermarket workers during the lockdown. Many other unions and the Council of Trade Unions as a whole have been incredibly busy supporting the working class in defence of their rights at work during this exceptional time.
The recent strife within the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and the resignation of its president, Comrade Grant Brookes, along with a significant fraction of its Board, is a worrying development, however, and highlights the ongoing division between those genuinely committed to building workers’ power and the “social partnership” stooges. The widespread indignation within the rank-and-file of the NZNO highlight the creative and powerful political force of the working masses that drives the working class movement forwards from the bottom up.
We must also look beyond this short-term response to the Coronavirus lockdown and begin charting a new, alternative vision for Aotearoa away from the Rodger/Ruth neoliberal dogma that has been hegemonic within NZ politics for nearly forty years. In our joint statement with the Communist Party of Australia, the NCPA established the basics of what a worker-focused recovery programme could look like, including sweeping nationalisations, benefit system overhauls and a public digital infrastructure to reduce our reliance on US tech monopolies. In coming weeks, we will expound more on what this could look like.
Today marks the 1st anniversary of the beginning of public NCPA work. It has been an incredible year of hard but productive work regrouping Communist forces in Aotearoa and beginning to collectively rebuild the NZ Communist movement.
This day is a good one to meditate on, as we approach 100 years since the founding of New Zealand’s first communist party – the CPNZ. While many mistakes have been made in the history of our movement, there are just as many lessons that we can learn from. We are increasingly aware of our own place in history, increasingly carrying on the legacy of our predecessor groups. As our Chair of the Central Committee, Kat Buissink, said in her speech at our founding congress “We are not born from the void, but as a result of the workers’ struggle both internationally and at home in New Zealand.” In this, our second year, we look forward to continuing our activity within the workers’ movement and joint struggle with trade and community unions and working to grow a grassroots movement towards a socialist Aotearoa. The increased participation in the NCPA of former members of the SUP, CPNZ and WCL is a good indication of our growth. We send our comradely well-wishes to all workers and proletarian activists on this day commemorating the struggle of the proletariat.
Long live the working class!
Long live socialism!
Happy May Day!