Misdirection: The furore reignited by Sir Peter Jackson and his minions over the production of "The Hobbit" occurred on the same day as 22,000 workers protested the National Government's plans to curtail workers rights. This fortunate "coincidence" (along with a vicious anti-union outburst from the country's DHBs) drove the issues relating to "Fairness at Work" clean off the nation's front pages.
THEY CAME HOWLING through the streets of Wellington like an army of bloodthirsty orcs. And striding at the head of this rabble of hysterical computer geeks, dull-witted gaffers and troll-like grips was the wizard of Weta Workshops, Sir Richard Taylor, energetically playing the role of Saruman to Sir Peter Jackson’s Sauron.
Meanwhile, the Black Gates of Mordor (a.k.a The Wairarapa) opened – spewing forth those two spiteful Nazgul, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens. Raising high their Dark Lord’s banner, they made a beeline for the White City (a.k.a the studios of Radio New Zealand).
Barring the way, their bright red banners glowing in the morning sunlight, stood a tiny army of elves and men (a.k.a. NZ Actors Equity and the CTU). At its head, awaiting the onset of Mordor and Isengard with drawn swords, were Robyn Malcolm and Helen Kelly.
And over all, untouched by the media lights in its multi-million-dollar fortress, the Eye of Jackson cast its baleful glare. Safe behind his impenetrable walls, Sir Peter will only ride forth when the final battle has been won and the last contract signed – the wheels of his midnight SUV rolling heedlessly over the corpses of slain actors and eviscerated unions.
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AND WHAT A COINCIDENCE (if coincidence it was) that Jackson’s vicious display of anti-union fury should occur within 24 hours of 22,000 workers turning out to demonstrate their opposition to the National Government’s Employment Relations Amendment Bill.
And, of course, Jackson wasn’t alone. The DHB’s also chose 20 October to launch a full-scale assault upon the unions representing medical radiographers and laboratory technicians.
How convenient, because, who knows, without the scurrilous, unsubstantiated and completely self-defeating claims scattered around by the DHBs; without Taylor’s mob and Jackson’s scaremongering letter; the New Zealand public might have been able to concentrate their minds on the issues being raised at the CTU’s "Fairness at Work" rallies.
Without these spectacular employer provocations inflaming their passions and diverting their attention, decent New Zealanders might even have felt a twinge of sympathy – even empathy – for the plight of the invisible hundreds-of-thousands of working-class people who, day-after-day, keep this society functioning.
And don’t tell me that there is no such thing as "the working-class" any more. Don’t pretend that we are all, in John Lennon’s words: "so clever and classless and free". Because, if you had been sitting where I was sitting yesterday afternoon you would know what a dangerous and self-serving lie that is.
Seated in the Telstra Clear Event Centre in Manukau yesterday, watching the thousands of union members as they slowly filled up the vast space in front of me, it was as though I had been transported to a wholly different New Zealand.
This wasn’t the bright, white world of the television ads: the world where everyone is beautiful and everything is new. Nor was it the world of Ken and Barbie news presenters, breathlessly relating the details of the latest celebrity scandal. The faces of the men and women in front of me were lined by care and etched with hardship. Many of them were wearing the livery of their masters – like the servants of 18th Century aristocrats. Others came straight from the factory floor in boots and overalls.
And, overwhelmingly, the working people in front of me were brown-skinned. Maori and Pasifika, Asian, Middle Eastern and African. Represented on that rapidly filling floor were scores of languages and dozens of cultures. It was another New Zealand altogether, and upon its collective back, every day, the New Zealand of the rich and the comfortable does its business.
Whether the rich and the comfortable allow themselves to be carried in wilful ignorance, or callous indifference, matters much less than the fact that the people upon whose backs they ride have become invisible to them.
The hopes and fears, struggles and triumphs of working people simply don’t matter to this rich and comfortable New Zealand. It never drives through their neighbourhoods, it doesn’t drink in their pubs, it knows nothing of the great rows of factories, warehouses and shops where they work. The people who drive the trucks, who unload the ships, who keep the water flowing through the taps and the electricity flowing down the wires are seen as mere appendages to the machines they operate. They are not people – they are services, servants, things.
And things are not supposed to talk back, complain, ask for more, demand a say: things are supposed to work when they’re switched on, and to shut-down when they’re switched off.
I wish the rich and the comfortable – the New Zealand that switches human-beings on and off – had been in that hall yesterday. I wish they could have heard the great shout that went up when Robert Reid, Secretary of the National Distribution Union, cried out:
We will defeat this bill, nothing is surer! If not today, we will defeat it tomorrow; if not tomorrow, we will defeat it on the streets, we will defeat it in the workplaces, we will defeat it next year when we throw this anti-union Government out! We defeated John Banks and got Len Brown in ... We can win, we will win, we will throw this bill and this Government into the dustbin of history!
That’s what rich and comfortable New Zealand has forgotten, you see: that these "things" they switch on and off have votes – and are learning how to use them.
The sword that was broken is being reforged.
The Dark Lord hasn’t won yet.