Local Bernie Sanders. Image attributed to Michael Vadon

Published on April 25th, 2016 | by Socialist Voice

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Where is New Zealand’s Bernie Sanders?

The last few months have seen a turning point in politics in the USA, with the anti-establishment candidates for president Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump winning elections in state after state. Sanders, an independent who is hoping to be nominated as the Democratic Party candidate, calls himself a ‘democratic socialist’ and argues that power and wealth needs to be taken from the 1%, the richest people in the world, and shared with the 99%; ordinary working people.

Like Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom, Bernie Sanders has tapped into a deep anger amongst the majority of people that while billionaires grow richer by the day, working people struggle to find jobs, affordable housing, education and healthcare. Wages in the USA are so low for many that it is not uncommon for full-time workers to be homeless, unable to afford rent. Sanders has promised higher taxes on the rich to pay for free education and healthcare for all Americans. He supports a living wage, immigration reform to allow migrants to remain with their families, and an end to racism directed at Black, Latino and First Nation people. He argues for serious, immediate action to tackle climate change, and importantly, says that the richest 1% should not be able to dominate politics in the USA.

In New Zealand, ordinary people have shown they have some of the same concerns. At the recent nation-wide protests against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), tens of thousands of people marched against a treaty that gives further powers to corporations at the expense of workers and the environment. At the last election, voters consistently rated inequality as their greatest worry. Wages in New Zealand are so low that many workers rely on the government accommodation supplement to pay rent. Many more struggle to get enough hours in their jobs to live. Home ownership is no longer a possibility for the majority of young people. So where is New Zealand’s Bernie Sanders?

Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see a similar political leader here in New Zealand. In the United Kingdom Jeremy Corbyn comes from a long tradition of rebel left-wing Labour members of parliament. He has voted against right-wing Labour party policies hundreds of times. Similarly, Bernie Sanders has been an independant for the decades he has spent in the US House of Representatives and the Senate. He has been a critic of both the Republican and Democratic Parties for much of that time.

The New Zealand Labour Party has no left-wing members of parliament. The party expelled left-wing members in the early 20s and early 40s and remaining left-wing party members left in 1989 in protest against Rogernomics to form the New Labour Party, which went on to become the Alliance. The Green Party, although having a number of left-wing members when it formed, has been careful not to favour the interests of working people, using slogans such as ‘Not left nor right but out in front’. The defeat of leftist Sue Bradford for the co-leadership of the party was a clear sign of the Greens shift to the right. Both parties are fundamentally happy with rich businessmen and women running the country, with parliament serving their needs alone. The Mana party had a clear left-wing position and was built from the ground up by ordinary people but the dodgy deal worked out between Mana party leaders and millionaire Kim Dotcom in the last election lost the party considerable credibility.

There is no doubt that ordinary people around the world, particularly young people, are more interested in a different type of society, in which the needs of the many and the environment are placed before the needs of the wealthy few, than ever before. Last year, the most searched-for word on the Merriam-Webster online dictionary was ‘Socialism’. Here in New Zealand we are unable to count on a politician to start a political movement for a new type of society; ordinary people will have to do this themselves. Socialist Voice will be part of this movement.



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