Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Great Fear: Why Farmers Won’t Let The Health And Safety Reform Bill Pass.

Hard Going: All attempts to intrude regulations pertinent to the general welfare of all New Zealanders beyond the farm gate has invariably been met with ferocious political opposition. Whether it be the public’s “right to roam”, the doomed “Fart Tax”, the Emissions Trading Scheme, or, in just the last few weeks, the Health and Safety Reform Bill, the cry of New Zealand’s cockies has been – "They shall not pass!"
 
IT WAS GENOCIDE of a special kind. Relentless mass killing inspired not by ethnicity, or religion, but by the victims’ social and economic position. “The liquidation of the Kulaks as a class” was one of Joseph Stalin’s greatest crimes. Farmers around the world looked on in horror, and their instinctive hostility towards the collectivising tendencies of city-based socialists congealed into an implacable hatred.
 
As a political designation, “Kulak” is derived from the Polish word for “fist” – as in “tight fisted” – making it, from the very beginning, a term of abuse for those farmers who had worked harder and smarter than their neighbours, produced a surplus, sold it on the open market, purchased some basic agricultural machinery with the proceeds, hired a little help – and made a profit.
 
Even in Tsarist times (when Poland was a part of the Russian Empire) the Kulaks were objects of envy and suspicion. After the Bolshevik Revolution, however, to be classed (and the word is used here advisedly) as a Kulak all-too-often meant persecution, confiscation, and, with the advent of “the collectivisation of agriculture” in late 1920s and early 30s, arrest, deportation, enslavement in the gulags [Soviet forced labour camps] and death.
 
With the Revolution’s ruthless elimination of the old Russian aristocracy, the Kulaks – though only marginally better off than their neighbours – had found themselves elevated to the status of the new capitalist class in the countryside. The smarter Bolsheviks had wanted to harness the drive and entrepreneurial flair of the Kulaks to secure the volume of exportable agricultural surpluses required to make socialism affordable for the rest of the USSR’s population.
 
Stalin was having none of it. The great Soviet experiment could not be held hostage to the capitalistic proclivities of its peasant farmers – no matter how economically productive. Agriculture must be collectivised and industrialised. Peasants must become workers. “Now”, Stalin boasted in 1929, “we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production with the production of kolkhozes [collective farms] and sovkhozes [state-owned farms].”

 
"Do Not Trust Him! This Czech poster, from the 1940s, depicts the Kulak as the most hardened enemy of Socialism.
 
Ancient history? Not a bit of it! The fate of farmers under conditions of “actually existing socialism” has stood as a cautionary tale to generation after generation of Kiwi cockies. The very idea of the state and its minions attempting to impose their will beyond the farm gate fills New Zealand farmers with a combination of fury and dread. Resistance, loud and implacable, has always been their first response.

Except, of course, when collective solutions were manifestly in the farmers’ interest – as was the case with the guaranteed prices and massive state subsidies that underpinned New Zealand agriculture from the 1930s to the 1980s. Like so many other Kiwi capitalists, farmers have never had a problem with socialising the costs and privatising the profits of their endeavours.
 
Well, hardly ever. When, in 1972, the National Government suggested the compulsory acquisition of the entire New Zealand wool clip, the parliamentary candidate for the Southland seat of Awarua, a farmer named Aubrey Begg, thundered that: “If this measure is allowed to proceed, we might as well paint a hammer and sickle on every barn door in New Zealand!” (And he was the Labour candidate!)
 
The farmers’ great fear of socialism is nowhere better displayed than in their unwavering refusal to recognise workers’ rights. Such recognition would only open the door to the trade unions – long resisted (think "Massey’s Cossacks") as both the harbingers and hand-maidens of every socialist burden ever imposed upon the long-suffering cockie.
 
One imagines the fate of the doomed kulaks looming large in the farmers’ fevered imaginations when, in 1936, the First Labour Government passed the Agricultural Workers Act. No doubt its provision of a minimum wage, four weeks paid holiday, and radically improved housing, for all farm workers, was regarded as proof positive that the Kiwi Kulaks’ one-way trip to the gulags was imminent!
 
Though the word “Kulak” may have faded from twenty-first century cockies’ vocabulary, their visceral fear of trade unionists and the socialist aspirations they embody, has not. Which is why any and every attempt to intrude regulations pertinent to the general welfare of all New Zealanders beyond the farm gate is invariably met with ferocious political opposition. Whether it be the public’s “right to roam”, the doomed “Fart Tax”, the Emissions Trading Scheme, or, in just the last few weeks, the Health and Safety Reform Bill, the cry of New Zealand’s cockies has been the same as the cry of the communist defenders of the Spanish Republic: ¡No pasarán! – They Shall Not Pass!
 
The rest of New Zealand must understand that allowing farm workers to manage their own health and safety would open the door for trade unionism – and socialism!
 
And what could possibly be more dangerous than that?!
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 25 August 2015.

15 comments:

Victor said...

I think the poster is Czech and probably from the 1940s.

I'm not meant to be typing long screeds at present (decayed disks). So you're spared my opinions. But my appetite for pedantry remains.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting and informative piece, prior to 1991, which was the year off the Employment Contract Act, their was a active branch of the labourers union called the Farm labourers union. It was based in Hamilton, I am not sure but I believe their was a NZ wide union award which was negotiated with Federated Farmers. The ECA destroyed many union awards covering disparate employees in various industries and the farming industry union was no exception. When the Government ( National )bought in the ECA legislation the CTU did not call protest marches as was the wont of many unions and the Labourers union led a argument against the CTU for many years. Farms can be and have been union organised in our history.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Yes it's sort of interesting that farmers are now importing workers from low-wage countries like the Philippines in order to keep unions out on wages low. I wonder how they get enough skills points? :-) It's not as if the Philippines or any of those other places are overrun by dairy or sheep farms.

Chris Trotter said...

Your eagle eye is appreciated, Victor.

It was found under the heading "Soviet Propaganda Posters" - but, the alphabet used is Roman, not Cyrillic. Should have spotted that!

Duly corrected.

peter petterson said...

Great post. Will link it on my blog

peter petterson said...

http://petesnewhangout.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/1118/

peter petterson said...

The ECA wiped all awards off the face of the earth, and replaced them with individual contracts - including the one I had just helped to negotiate as a delegate in 1991. Then my employer, South Pacific Tyres "sold" my job under my feet.

Philip Todd said...

The obvious bias towards this legislation brings the looking after their mates culture out into the open for all to see. That on its own has left the rump exposed on the Nats machine. Hopefully it wont lead to turning more people off politics.
That lack of engagement is the challenge for all political parties if they are going to drive some credible policies forward at the next election. I cant believe worm farmers are not National Party supporters but obviously not.
Interestingly back in the 70,s and 80,s many young farmers worked in the freezing works to make ends meet so were unionised and it didn't lead to the disintegration of farming as we know it.

Philip Todd said...

Not sure if the full story around the ECA has ever been told but the one person who had the mandate to do something before it made it through Parliament was Ken Douglas. Ken went on to score several lucrative appointed directorships from the very people who pushed so hard to pass the law. Much was made about why it was needed and Australia was going to follow but they protested and never suffered the savage effects our working class did. It was a draconian bit of legislation. Interestingly when Helen Clarkes Labour government was elected with the help of the union movement she didn't see it as important to repeal the ECA until substantial behind the scenes arm twisting went on. The costs of the Bolger govt was incalculable, they destroyed many accepted practices along with the ECA such as mine inspectors, apprentice training and caused the leaky home debacle. The same stuff is going on right now in CHCH and will cost NZ taxpayers for many years to come

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Victor – I'm not sure why you are not allowed to type much, whether it's the actual typing which is the case with me (pains in the arms) or the sitting. But I use dictation software, which you can do standing, sitting, or lounging around like a Roman senator at dinner. It's called Dragon. I've no idea of the cost, because I have always upgraded which is cheaper. But there is a New Zealand representative somewhere in Auckland.

In fact I have any number of older versions of the damned thing lying around doing nothing, so if you can figure out a way for me to get it to you without giving out your address in a public forum, I'd be glad to stick one in an envelope and send it to you. Your short form work is not nearly as entertaining as the longform :-). So I'd hate to lose it.

Bushbaptist said...

At US$600.00 GS it would need to be good!

I write up my response in a word processor and then copy and paste. That way I can correct any mistakes.

Back to the post of Chris' this report is somewhat troubling:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11503094

Even School grounds!

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/71459617/health-and-safety-reform-bill-threat-to-school-camps-and-playgrounds

Be interesting to see how our pet Rightwingers justify these provisions!

Davo.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Er... Dragon home is $140.00. And it is pretty good.As you may have noticed from my posts, it doesn't make spelling mistakes. It does however quite cheerfully use the wrong word :-).(4 for four) But if I annunciate reasonably carefully, I can type pretty much as fast as a secretary, though not as fast as those who type for Hansard. A lawyer friend of mine uses it because he can set it up to type whole pages with one word, – because he uses a lot of forms which just need names changing. Probably useful that for countering the same old, same old right wing arguments that get put up here often. Just say "argument one." and get a whole page of reply :-). It's not as if they are ever original

Bushbaptist said...

$600.00 was the site quote GS.

Anyway we have bureaucracy gone daft!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

http://shop.nuance.com/store/scsoftAP/DisplayCategoryProductListPage/categoryID.66791600

No idea where you got that. It IS considerably more expensive for a Mac. But here is a link to their website.

Anonymous said...

Ken Douglas is a question-mark. I am pretty sure any call for a general strike wouldn't have worked out. But in the retrospect it was worth trying, no matter what. The man was a humanist I don't doubt, yet he let us down. Which is allowed.