The Standard has marked Labour Weekend (I presume) with a post oddly under the authorship of ‘Natwatch’ (which seems to be a pseudonym for someone not wanting to be identified as being a union official) .
Convincing workers not to organise in their own best interests is one of the great successes of right-wing politics.
I have not needed convincing. I have never seen any need to belong to a union, although for short periods last century I was a compulsory member, the only sign of which was a deduction from my pay packet.
Yes, the undermining of the unions was a deliberate act, part of the neoliberal gutting of NZ. The political right hate unions because they protect working conditions, and raise wages – even today.
Part of union bashing, of course, is bashing the party that represents workers. Here’s a fine specimen – Look, there goes the Labour Party – sliding towards oblivion. Wilson basis his rant on Labour “faultlines” over Auckland – do National Party faultlines prove the same?. He then bizarrely concludes –
Actually, there is a point to Labour and it’s a really important one. They’re there to win elections. Labour is the main party of opposition and therefore is likely to be the majority party in any centre-left government. So they have to look credible. They have to be credible.
If they’re not, the whole centre-left suffers. A vote for the Greens is a vote for a Labour-led government. Votes for NZ First and the Maori Party are also votes for the possibility of such a government.
Not bad for a party supposedly “sliding to oblivion” you might think. Labour’s Future of Work planning is essential, Labour is leading the way on housing and poverty, Labour will work with The Greens on climate change – while National drags its heals on all of these issues (A surplus of cash and a deficit of concern for people). Like unions, the Labour Party is needed today more than ever.
There is still a need for unions – for the minority of workers who choose to belong to a workers’ collective. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions represents about 360,000 according to Wikipedia, but the CTU website says:
The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi brings together over 320,000 New Zealand union members in 31 affiliated unions. We are the united voice for working people and their families in New Zealand.
So it looks like the union numbers continue to shrink.
Some of the unions are affiliated to the Labour Party, and for the last few years have attained a pivotal role in choosing the party leader.
Current leader Andrew Little got the lowest vote from Caucus of the four candidates, and was well behind Grant Robertson in the members’ vote, but just won the leadership position due to a high union affiliate vote.
Little has a union background, but as a lawyer so he is not exactly a coal face working man.
Most of the other Labour MPs appear to have academic qualifications.
The Labour spokesperson for Workplace Relations and Safety is Iain Lees-Galloway. Prior to becoming an MP he worked as an organiser for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, which is more of a professional organisation than the traditional workers’ unions. Lees-Galloway is ranked 14th in Labour’s pecking order so Workplace Relations doesn’t seem to be a high priority in the party.
Associate Workplace Relations and Safety Spokesperson is Sue Moroney, ranked 16. According to Wikipedia she has held a number of union positions.
The New Zealand Labour Party was established on 7 July 1916 in Wellington, bringing together socialist groups advocating proportional representation and “the Recall” of Members of Parliament, as well as the nationalisation of production and of exchange. Its origins lie in the British working class movement, heavily influenced by Australian radicalism and events such as the Waihi miners’ strike.
Although Labour had split with its more militant faction, (who went on to form various socialist parties) it maintained what were at the time radical socialist policies. Labour’s ‘Usehold’ policy on land was in essence the replacement of freehold tenure by a system of perpetual lease from the State, with all land transfer conducted through the State(the full nationalisation of farmland). This policy was unpopular with voters and was dropped by Labour, along with other more radical policies, throughout the 1920s.
Leading the union and working alongside some of New Zealand’s biggest companies I saw first hand the kind of economy we need – about what we need to do to create and save the jobs that families rely on for their financial security.
These experiences taught me that our economy isn’t just about numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s about New Zealanders and their families and whether people have opportunity and are able to get ahead.
New Zealand was becoming increasingly weighted in favour of those already doing well, while throwing up barriers that stopped other people get ahead.
As a nation, we weren’t doing the kind of things we needed to do to generate new wealth, and so ordinary Kiwis found themselves fighting over a smaller and smaller share of a shrinking economy. I made the decision then that if I wanted to help turn all that around, I was going to run for Parliament.
So Little’s Labour visions are quite different to the aims of the party when it was set up a century ago.
Modern elections are fought largely over perceived competence in managing the country’s economy, so Labour competes with National on this basis. The tow main parties seem largely to be proposing similar outcomes with variations to their aims on how to achieve those outcomes.
Labour is barely recognisable today as a socialist working man’s party, but modern New Zealand is far different as well. There are far fewer labourers, and far more women in the workforce.
Labour’s relevance now has to be reinvented if they are to distinguish themselves from National. They are trying to do that with their ‘Future of Work’ project.
We’re looking to the future too. We are one of the only parties in the world doing serious thinking about the future of work – about where jobs are going to come from in 20 and 30 and 40 years’ time and how we ensure that Kiwis aren’t left out or left behind as the world changes.
This could be an important project, albeit difficult to predict given the technological and societal changes over the last 20, 30 and 40 years.
But is it too forward thinking to be relevant to most working people next year when we have our next election?
Labour lost it’s way over and has muddled through the last decade.
The party can reinvent itself and become relevant to today’s voters, but it is not yet apparent how, beyond offering a chance to Greens to get their first chance to be a part of a government.
One thing they will have to do to become relevant as a serious contender is to ditch the ‘if you criticise us you’re a right winger’ mentality.