The mask falls away: In announcing its employment law "reforms", the National Party has revealed to the CTU what it truly is: an entity which, like the killer cyborg in The Terminator, "can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."
"IF EMPLOYERS in this country want chaos – we can do chaos." The EPMU’s Bill Newson isn’t noted for making threats he can’t keep. So, if he's standing on the back of the radical Unite Union’s flatbed truck and threatening to unleash chaos in New Zealand’s factories – that's probably something the National Government should think about.
And while they’re at it, they might also like to ponder the words of the National Secretary of the Dairy Workers Union, James Ritchie:
"If this 90-day rule is used against any of our members, I can tell you that there will be a stop-work meeting called immediately to decide what action the site should take in response."
Ritchie’s dairy workers keep New Zealand’s milk-processing plants operating – it’s hard to think of another group of workers with more strategic economic clout.
There were many more impassioned attacks on the National-led Government’s proposed employment law "reforms" delivered from the back of Unite’s flatbed truck this morning (Sunday, 18 July 2010).
The NDU’s Maxine Gaye spoke about the National Party’s hatred and contempt for working people. Garry Parsloe, from the Maritime Unions, wondered aloud whether those who had voted for John Key because it was "time for a change" were expecting "this sort of change?" Unite Union organiser, Joe Carolan, asked the 200-300 unionists present to see Key’s attack on the union movement as "our silver lining": a chance to mobilise the New Zealand working-class against the grim legacy of the Employment Contracts Act.
But, for me, the most important words spoken at the rally came from CTU President, Helen Kelly. Thanking all those present for turning up at such short notice on a Sunday morning, she wound up the protest by telling them that the CTU’s National Council would be meeting on Thursday, 22 July, and that she was sure they’d all be joining the CTU again very soon – "on the streets".
"If you only knew how long I have waited to hear a CTU president utter the words ‘on the streets’!" I said to the startled union leader as I enveloped her in a congratulatory bear-hug.
I seriously doubt whether John Key and his colleagues have the slightest idea what they have done in driving the likes of Helen Kelly, Bill Newson and James Ritchie "to the streets". These union leaders are not cut from the same cloth as firebrands like Joe Carolan or John Minto – the rally’s superb Master of Ceremonies. Their preference has always been to, as far as possible without surrender, work with the employers and the government – not throw rocks at them. Kelly, in particular, put her credibility on the line by taking an active role in the Prime Minister’s "Jobs Summit". She and the CTU were willing to wear the scorn of the militants if it meant establishing a sensible working relationship with Key and his cabinet.
This is the thanks they got.
The combined effect of the measures announced to the National Party Conference by the Prime Minister and his Labour Minister, Kate Wilkinson, will be to gut the much-diminished New Zealand union movement of whatever limited effectiveness it still possesses. Kelly and the other moderate union leaders now have no choice but to launch an all-out fight for the very survival of their organisations.
With Key’s address to the Conference, the last wisps of illusion have been blown away and the last vestiges of good faith and trust shredded. Kelly and her colleagues now know that a National Party unrestrained by an organised working-class – like the ominous mass of the old FOL under Fintain Patrick Walsh – is simply incapable of treating the trade unions with even the faintest semblance of decency or respect.
The urge to grind working-class New Zealanders’ faces into the dirt is obviously hard-wired into the rudimentary mental machinery of the reactionary rural bigots and smug suburban fascists that make up the National Party’s rank-and-file.
As I said to the Labour MP, Carol Beaumont, who was present at the rally, the National Party has shown itself to be just like the killer cyborg in the movie The Terminator. As the movie's hero, Kyle Reese tells the heroine, Sarah Connor:
"Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."
And in this sense, at least, Joe Carolan is right – National’s attack on workers’ rights should be seen as our silver lining. Because now, at last, we know what we’re up against – and why defeat is not an option.