Monday 22 October 2012

A Thought For Labour Day

Apologies for the Spelling! But this cartoon from the US Christian Science Monitor neatly encapsulates my thinking on Labour Day 2012.

FOR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS now we have been conducting a social experiment on the consequences for New Zealand workers of voluntary unionism and enterprise-based employment contracts. The results are in - and they are crystal clear.

The steady growth in workers incomes that characterised the 40 years following WWII came to a definitive end with the Employment Contracts Act in 1991. The widening gulf between NZ and Australian wage-rates dates from then, as does the explosive growth in social inequality.

To a social-democrat it should be axiomatic that this experiment be brought to an end. The true measure of neoliberal ideological hegemony, however, may be discerned in the inability of not only the NZLP but the CTU itself to recognise the necessity of rebuilding a mass labour movement.

Everything the unions have tried to overcome the structural obstacles placed before the trade union movement by the neoliberal authors of NZ's labour relations legislation has failed. Union density in the private sector now stands at less than 10 percent. And still union officials and Labour MPs will roll their eyes in scorn the moment a return to universal union membership or a national award system is suggested.

Nothing I know of could better illustrate neoliberalism's almost total victory over the Left than hearing union leaders argue against the interests of their own members in the language of their oppressors.

Something to think about on Labour Day.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Anonymous said...

What I can't stand is the disparity between the pay rates of the CEOs compared to the ordinary, but hard workers. How can a lowly salary of $35000 compare against vast rewards of $500,000 plus for the topdogs? More than a peasants revolt is long overdue.

mel said...

There is unfortunately a msm discourse of 'greedy unions'. The cruelest irony is that since 2008 the top 1% have had 93% of the income gains (USA).

We need to promote different narratives that clearly articulate the reality of lived experience for our low income workers. Our unions and political parties of the left should strongly promote these narratives and not hide behind neo-liberal double speak.

Anonymous said...

Turkeys vote for Xmas.

The rulers have long known this.

Expect more of the same.

Anonymous said...

I thought an awards system was in Labour's 2011 election platform?

Chris Trotter said...

Yes, Andrew, a very attenuated version of the old system.

Crucially, even this policy has hardly been heard of since the election.

I believe it is significant that Shearer and his advisers made absolutely no use of the policy in his Hornby WMC "jobs" speech.

It's simply not a direction favoured by the incumbent clique.

Anonymous said...

The old Labour party is no more, they don't seem to care about workers or unions or a fair days pay for a fair days work etc. They're all the same, really, the politicians, and no, Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

Bring back Michael Joseph Savage.

Who out there cares about the little people?

Victor said...

"The steady growth in workers incomes that characterised the 40 years following WWII came to a definitive end with the Employment Contracts Act in 1991. The widening gulf between NZ and Australian wage-rates dates from then, as does the explosive growth in social inequality."

Yes, but.....

A dramatic rise in workers' incomes was common to almost the entire developed world in the decades following World War Two.

This was certainly accompanied by a rise in union membership, just as the comparative decline in workers' incomes as a percentage of GDP has, in recent decades,been accompanied by a fall in union membership and, in many countries, by a roll back of hard-won union privileges.

But compulsory unionism was only found in a very small number of these countries, New Zealand, of course, being one of them.

Why, then, should we regard it as an inherent part of the process, whereby the workers of the post-war industrialised world achieved comparative prosperity and security?

And why would we regard it as an inherent part of resetting the balance, following the depredations of thirty years of neo-liberalism?

Did compulsory unionism prevent the slide in New Zealand wage levels and conditions of employement comparative to the rest of the developed world, from the early 1970s onwards? Clearly not. There were other factors at work (not least, the erosion of a guaranteed market in the UK).

Would compulsion help rebuild the sense of solidarity that's at the core of unions' ability to serve their members? My own admittedly brief experience of pre-ECA NZ industrial relations suggests the exact opposite. I'd much rather have had a wholly voluntaristic French or German union roooting for me.

Is this an issue that would help rebuild a broadly Social Democratic majority in this sadly misgoverned land? I'd take some convincing.

Conversely, is contractual freedom a fundamental principle, valid at all times and in all circumstances for Social Democrats (as it is, for example, for Classical Liberals)?

Certainly not! But there should surely be a presumption against coercion, unless a case in its favour can be clearly proved.

Has it been proved in this instance? You tell me.