Tuesday 30 August 2016

Red Shift: Labour Reorients Itself Toward Small Business.

"Meet The New Boss - Same As The Old Boss" The key question of Grant Robertson's "Future of Work" inquiry has been: What must Labour do to guarantee employers a steady supply of productive workers as New Zealand and the rest of the world enters the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Rather than making his FoW project about empowerment, Robertson chose instead to make it about facilitation.
RICHARD HARMAN writes approvingly about Labour’s turn to the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector. His Politik Blog entry of 29/8/16 covers Labour’s second “Future of Work” conference, held in Wellington last Friday (26/8/16) which he sums up with the sentence: “Labour is beginning to sound like a more entrepreneurial small-business friendly party as it digests the results of its study into the future of work.”
The “Future of Work” (FoW) project has been Grant Robertson’s baby ever since Andrew Little pipped him at the post for the Labour leadership in 2014. As an idea, FoW promised much. Initiated with radical intent it could easily have grown into a broad investigation into what twenty-first century workers expect of their employers, their workplaces, and paid employment in general. Such an investigation could have identified both the good and bad of contemporary employment practice and provided a compelling snapshot of what working life is like, 25 years after the Employment Contracts Act, and what it could look like in the future.
But that is not the direction in which Robertson opted to steer the FoW project. Rather than focus on the work people do, the conditions under which they’re required to do it, and how much they’re getting paid for it: the details of working life in which the Labour Party has, for the best part of its 100 year history, been most interested; Robertson and his team opted to take the technocratic route.
Instead of asking: What are New Zealand workers experiencing now? And: What tools do New Zealand workers need to ensure that their future work experiences are better, not worse, than todays? The key question of Robertson’s FoW inquiry has been: What must Labour do to guarantee employers a steady supply of productive workers as New Zealand and the rest of the world enters the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Rather than making the FoW project about empowerment, Robertson chose instead to make it about facilitation.
Which is where Labour’s turn to the SME sector enters the picture. As Harman notes in his Politik article: “Though the fine print has still to be delivered, the general thrust of where the party is going marks a substantial break with its big-industry oriented past.” Or, to put it another way, the Labour Party which Robertson is shaping, rather than being a vehicle for the needs and aspirations of factory workers, construction workers, shop employees, office workers, hospitality staff, transport operators and general labourers, will instead become the party of highly-skilled STEM workers, creatives and professionals.
This represents a major shift in Labour’s class allegiance: one which can only lead to a radical re-ordering of the party’s priorities. SMEs are no less grasping than large enterprises when it comes to divvying up the fruits of their employees’ collective effort. Indeed, they are often much worse. About this aspect of small-scale capitalism, Robertson and his team have little to say.
They are considerably more voluble, however, on the subject of self-employment. As Harman puts it: “Perhaps the most radical impact of the study has been a recognition by Labour that particularly young people have a “tremendous desire” to be their own boss.” We are not told whether these young people’s aspiration to become their own boss is matched by an equally strong determination to become somebody else’s.
The power relationship between employers and employees is still the principal driver of capitalist social relations. It also supplies the underlying logic of capitalist politics. Labour’s core mission, as a political party, has been to reshape New Zealand society in ways which ensure that the power relationship between bosses and workers is as equitable as possible. Crucial to that mission has been the trade union. What Harman failed to notice (or perhaps he did notice, but considered it unimportant) is that in Robertson’s 3,431-word opening address to the second FoW conference there is not a single reference to the institutions out of which the Labour Party was born.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, at least as far as Grant Robertson is concerned, trade unions have nothing to contribute to the future of work – or workers – in twenty-first century New Zealand.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 29 August 2016.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Unconscionable. Simply unconscionable. Words fail me.

BlisteringAttack said...

The struggle through the generations and through the industrialised centries has been between capital and labour ie people with money paying people to do things - and how fair that process is or could be.

This seems to be overlooked by 'Wunderkind Robertson'. Perhaps an indication of his lack of life experience & the kind of influencer alive and well in the NZ Labour Party today.

peteswriteplace said...

Mr Robertson should think again.

Polly said...

Grant Robertson's Labour may well by more "small business minded" but they are simply following the National and Act parties leadership on this policy in their desperate endeavour's to attract support.
It may well work amongst some small employers but the main group of small employers are well ingrained to support the free and anti union parties of National and Act.

In my opinion this is simply Robertson paying the unions back for not supporting him and goody-goody two shoes for the leadership of the party.

I know many people in industry see Robertson as a financial neophyte whilst they do have a lot of respect for David Parker.

Question: why did Little insist when the party did the MOU with the Greens that Robertson will be the Finance Minister (no ifs and buts allowed) should they get government benches, I suggest it was to stop any speculation that Parker could return with some Green and back-bench Labour support.

geywarbler said...

It is interesting how devoid of fellow feeling the young aspirational nouveau riche can be. It is good to encourage entrepreneurship with micro businesses up to SMEs. But they are often just over the high jump of their businesses starting to make money, they have little training or thought of what their employees need to live and should reasonably expect in money, conditions and respect. New business people may have to mortgage their homes and be scraping the barrel themselves, and it can take up to three years if they can last that long and don't have illness in the family, before they can reach stability. Staff can expect no sympathy or understanding for their difficulties. Sometimes the boss/es have worse.

Labour can ensure that banks encourage SMEs if they want to move in this direction, by lending more to SMEs and less on houses. I think Rod Oram Tuesday Radionz 11 am-ish mentioned this. A Reserve Bank speaker noted how badly the business sector is doing world-wide. I think that business is finding that it can't have its cake and eat it too. Spending is down and wage and hours are low, but business and their fellow traveller economists don't see that small injections of investment and basic infrastructure and a bit of push from higher minimum wages, and perhaps a 'taster' at pocket money level for teenagers with part-time jobs would warm not heat, the economy and bring inflation and interest figures up from dormant or negative.

I don't know what the ratio is to each winning successful and financially rewarding business, to ones that just pay their way, ones that can be closed early when targets have not been reached, and ones that go down with a bang and take owners money, goods and hopes with them.

And Labour should be bringing in special tax breaks for each worker that businesses can take on and train (and these to be NZers, not imports). There is big business opportunity in training workers from start, and establishing a work record and familiarity with business methods. This to be aided by government and rewarded when certificate level is reached, and the next business also rewarded for further training them for 90 days. Then they might get man/woman/powered to some job that they can manage in the country or city. They are guaranteed a job for a year and can change after two months if incompatible or to have wider experience. The whole process to be quality checked and the young not to be profit fodder, but quizzed for their assessment of the scheme.

It seems to me that the middle class are heady with their own superiority and reluctant to see themselves as lucky to have had the right stuff, in the right place at the right time. There ia a lot of shooting off their mouths about how hard they worked and that everyone has the same opportunity, but also being wilfully blind to the fact that they would not have had those opportunities if everyone had managed to tread the same path and provided competition, and that they have had others helping their success. And it's not hip to be a worker any more, one has to be in management or have high IT skills, to be well-regarded. There are people who are the very model of good citizens doing wanted, useful work, being worn down and impoverished because of the skewed system of remuneration we have.

Guerilla Surgeon said...


A little off topic but well worth a read.

Nick J said...

I agree with GS. Simply unconscionable from Robertson. But words do not fail me. Robertson is an embarrassment to the proud history of working people as expressed by the Labour movement. He represents the vacuous aspirations of second generation Douglasites. And his economic understanding is that of an intellectual lightweight. Does he really not wonder where the money earned from all these youthful entrepreneurs will come from? Has he ever considered the cost of the inevitable failure of many of these individuals business ideas, and the consequent social train wreck in an economy stripped bare of social safety nets?

Robertson plays fast and loose with no regard to consequences. Maybe his vision will be the nightmare that shakes the confident anti collective arrogance from generations raised under the market paradigm. Maybe this scornful mess of a modern "Labour" MP will act as a self destroying circuit breaker to this nasty squalid ideology. Then goodbye Grant and good riddance.

pat said...

It will be interesting to see how this is moulded into policy but from what you have outlined it is not encouraging. From outside it is difficult to understand the apparent support for Robertson in such a vital position within Labour or in fact at times his connection.....Labour is a broad church indeed.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
To represent the same employees Labour represented 50 years ago they need to set up shop in China , Taiwan , and Bangladesh.
The imbalance now in N Z as Greywarbler suggests is not between business owners and workers , it's between the productive sector and big finance which is screwing us all.
Cheers David J S

BlisteringAttack said...

If only New Zealand had a Jimmy Reid.


Jens Meder said...

With "Building wealth from the ground up", Robertson is the potential "savior" of Labour as a leading party, because if the already long-time outdated (since the birth of Social Democracy) Socialist "class struggle" principle becomes Labour's hallmark, this incredible regression back into 19th century revolutionary ideology just will not "cut the mustard" with the now prosperous majority.

Although, yes - it might stimulate the prosperous majority to more prosperity widening and securing efforts, which would be a more promising way ahead for Labour, than standing for antagonistic "class struggle".

Nick J said...

Jens, this future economy and changed society that Robertson and others indulge in is only possible if you have continued exponential growth. That requires consumption of finite resources. It requires replacement of people with machines. In the end nobody is employed, all the jobs automated and owned by the few, and nobody has money to consume.

The old fashioned class warfare between owners and workers we so blithely dismiss as old fashioned industrial revolution still exists in a new form. The surplus of former workers / economic participants versus those still employed allied to the owners of wealth. Robertson and his ilk wish to feed that machine. Labour should be about ensuring the benefits of the machine to the whole of society.

jh said...

The power relationship between employers and employees is still the principal driver of capitalist social relations.
Markets determine the price of labour. The employers and the news media and academia play a role in the supply of labour.


Guerilla Surgeon said...


More on the investor-state dispute settlement. Seems horrifying.

Jens Meder said...

Well Nick J - if Labour should be about ensuring the benefits of the "machine" (Industry? Establishment? Capital(ism)? The State?), then could Labour not achieve that by extending direct participation in capitalism to all citizens, so that all machinery and wealth is not owned by only a plutocratic elite, but at least from a minimally meaningful value by all citizens eventually ?

Then, even if growth ceases for whatever reason, will not even the poorest still have some wealth for security, trading, and help in productivity beside only their own labour power ?

Nick J said...

Spot on Jens. Exactly what is required. Share both gain and pain.

Dennis Frank said...

Jens, perhaps that old 19th-century paradigm no longer has relevance? Why wonder what "Labour should be about"? You still believe in the concept of solidarity amongst workers despite the fact that they've spent more than 30 years invalidating it?

As for the ownership of technology and wealth, that will always reside with the creators and users. The old socialist project to steal it via the use of state compulsion was never more than fantasy. The first step to reality for leftists is to admit to themselves that such deeply unethical behaviour is immoral and thus could never win mass approval.

A UBI would establish the minimal equity of wealth you appear to want to enable the poor to survive - after more than 40 years in the pipeline, I suspect delivery is now likely to occur (eventually).

Growth will not cease: it is natural. The exponential growth programmed by compound interest has fortunately been terminated by the capitalists themselves (gfc). Best frame through which to view economic growth is nature - the garden or forest where young green shoots emerge from the ground just like technology creates new industries.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" this incredible regression back into 19th century revolutionary ideology just will not "cut the mustard" with the now prosperous majority."

It always amazes me when people quote this – considering we have in fact returned to an 18th century ideology – and have been for the last 30 years. There's something wrong with returning to the 19th century but nothing wrong with returning to the 18th century?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Apparently the US just added 177,000 jobs in August – ALL of them in the service industries according to my source. If that's the way the world is going, it's time we started paying these people better.

Dennis Frank said...

Neoliberalism attempts to recycle the mix that made Britain great - but the licensing of corporations by the monarch was more of a statist enterprise than ideology. I haven't seen evidence that the wig-wearers of the 18th century became ideologues as a result - you may want to count Adam Smith in the latter part thereof as originator of such a trend. Fair enough.

But mercantilism seems to have been more mercenary. Advocates of enterprise in that era come across as more pragmatic than slaves to an ideology.

And GS, we don't pay service workers. Employers do. No more than the market requires. I don't mind govts legislating a minimum wage because we must be humane in public administration, but taxpayers have proven their resistance to escalating demands. I'm okay with Goff's call that council employees get a living wage. I voted for the UBI when the Alliance adopted it quarter of a century ago. I just expect something more intelligent than the left & right are providing!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"As for the ownership of technology and wealth, that will always reside with the creators and users. The old socialist project to steal it via the use of state compulsion was never more than fantasy. The first step to reality for leftists is to admit to themselves that such deeply unethical behaviour is immoral and thus could never win mass approval."

The problem is of course that most of the so-called creators and users created it with state aid. In which case, while I wouldn't necessarily advocate "stealing" it from them, I would prefer that they paid a fair share of taxes. Because as President Obama once said "You didn't build that." Conservatives always, always forget everything but their own contribution towards creation. Completely selfish and deluded.

greywarbler said...

Dennis Frank
The old socialist idea of stealing technology breakthroughs through state compulsion is pure hyperbole and repeated ignorance. Often the result of breakthroughs have been stolen by capitalists who have bought the new design for a song, or the inventor has forgotten to renew patent, or not realised what a money maker it was. Think the NZer who invented the grip-tight paint lid back in early 1900s I think.

The state has funded the internet - the USA government mostly I think so could have an idea that they should have proprietoral rights rather than capitalists leaching off it to make their billions. What do you think?

I hear Apple took advantage of a tax break to do business and provide employment in Ireland, but they have wrongly routed major overseas business transactions through there at the lower tax for employing business of about 12 half per cent, and are said to owe $20 billion.

It's not just socialist governments which can suffer moral hazards to gain revenue, capitalists and business are right in there if opportunities arise and $$$$$$$$++++++++ are there to grasp.

At present most university students have to pay for their education on the basis of theoretical good jobs and above average pay, and that pay is then mortgaged by the education charges and the interest on them. And the business world is run in a way that lessens pay levels over time.
How would it be for students to sign a lien on all future discoveries and their receipt from them? Then the country would receive a business return on higher education, which in NZ is still about 70% funded from government for NZ students. It would be like having a first and second mortgage on a house only this on education and be drawn off using a system like garnisheeing wages.

That would be fair would it, because private enterprise makes us pay and pay for decades, even lifetimes for copyright etc. They don't give away anything, except when someone else is covering the cost. And Dot Com is still being chased with whips.

Jens Meder said...

Guerilla Surgeon - forget ideologies.

Focus on the physical fact that without capitalism there would be no civilization nor anything above hand-to-mouth primitivism -

and let us discuss (create a new ideology?) how this reality can be applied in a more egalitarian, fair and effective way than up to now.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Jens Meder and his Interlocutors:

Your discussion was veering off into the forbidden territory of esoterica.

Ruthlessly deleted, I'm afraid.

PLEASE - stay on topic.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Charles E.

Pomposity on steroids! (Not to mention just plain wrong.)

Ruthlessly deleted.

Reasonable and measured is the tone we're looking for.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Focus on the physical fact that without capitalism there would be no civilization nor anything above hand-to-mouth primitivism."

Also plain wrong. But then Jens you have a very funny definition of capitalism. Slave societies for instance operate at a level far above hand to mouth primitivism. But if you want to create a new ideology perhaps you'd like to gives a clue as to what it would be. From what I have heard from you so far, would be very much like New Labour. Which is simply neoliberalism with a few tweaks around the edges.

Dammit Chris, I would have loved to have seen Charles's deleted comment. You're depriving me of a fair whack of innocent amusement. (I know – I know – you're not here to provide me with innocent amusement.) :)

Dennis Frank said...

So rather than rise to the challenge of reinventing the left that leftists have been avoiding since the '70s, Labour has decided to grab the bars on a different side of the ideological cage that imprisons it: "a major shift in Labour’s class allegiance", as Chris puts it. So refreshing to have a different view from inside the cage, eh? Robertson must be thrilled & invigorated by the switch.

This lunge for the small business part of the Nat power base isn't silly: such businesses are where most employees are to be found nowadays, I suspect. A wage-slave throughout my career, I never got unionised unless you want to count the PSA (TVNZ newsroom a decade). Never objected to unions on principle - just worked in small to medium organisations. I read the Robertson initiative as an update of the `lapdog for the capitalists' strategy. Others would call it Blairite or third way. But I give him credit for being smart enough to follow the numbers...

Guerilla Surgeon said...

For those who think that the decline of unions doesn't lead to the decline of working conditions.

ClassicPundit said...

With Little sacking his chief press secretary, 're-locating' his chief advisor, & now 2 more press secretaries jumping ship (jumped a sinking ship?), Little now really is at the wheel of the Mary Celeste which should be renamed the New Zealand Labour Party.