Sunday, 18 July 2010

Defeat Is Not An Option

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.


Anonymous said...

"Workchoices", the Australian version of these attacks on workers, saw John Howard thrown out of office. The Australians know how to protest- and protest they did on this issue. I hope New Zealanders get out and fight- I'll certainly be doing my bit. We can't afford to give in to the right like we did twenty years ago.

Gooner said...

Your analogy with movies is apt: This piece belongs in a scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest because it's batshit crazy.

I don't belong to the National Party and have never voted for them (but I have voted for its candidates). But this is downright absurd:

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.

Chris Trotter said...

Well, gee, "Gooner", how dou YOU explain the National Party's historical proclivity for attacking trade unions and deliberately curbing workers' economic and social rights?

Sunspots? Lead water pipes?

Gooner said...

Chris, you may not like the "ruling class" but I can bet you dollars to donuts they don't go to parliament to "grind working-class New Zealanders' faces into the dirt".

I am not naive, but I honestly believe virtually every MP wants a wealthier, more prosperous country. Goodness, even right-wingers might want that. The only difference is the means to achieve the end.

And trade unions don't have a monopoly on protecting rights. Ordinary people can do it themselves. The remarkable thing is if you allow them to, they may even may grow in confidence and be able to make more decisions in their own best interests - as horrible a thought as that might be.

Your post cries of the alarmist, frighten-the-horses rubbish that the Left put out when they start to lose ascendency. I have a lot more faith in employers in this country than you seem to do; and if there are few examples of poor behaviour, that is what they will be - a few examples.

I can live with a few.

Anonymous said...

Come on, the Nat membership base are bunch of bigots. Any cursory reading of their blog forums reveals that they rely intensely on stereotypes of weak and vulnerable New Zealanders for their brainless kneejerk ideology.

Anonymous said...

I have to say I agree totally with the paragraph that 'gooner' objects to so strongly. You only have to listen to most farmers in any rural area, the business elite, many SME owners or the type of worker who will never join a union but are happy to scab of the gains the union movement made over the last century.

Joseph said...

Good on ye, Chris ;)
The potential for Key to make a Sarkozy out of himself as all too real!

A good round up of TV, video, photo and commentary from today's battle here-

Olwyn said...

Chris, either you have misunderstood Anonymous or else I have. As I read him/her, they are saying that they agree with the paragraph that Gooner objects to; that "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." Which means that they think you are right, not that they are happy to live with a few bad bosses. Unless there is another Anonymous whose post is not up.

robertguyton said...

You rule-breaker you!
The "reactionary rural bigots and smug suburban fascists that make up the National Party’s rank-and-file" don't like rule-breakers!
Watch your back.

Nick J said...

Ah, passion Chris, theres fight in the old dog yet! I am with you all the way.

David Baigent said...

"Defeat is not an option".!!

Heh, In the longer view, "That particular victory you seek is not possible".

Who suffers?

Chris Trotter said...

So you can "live with a few" can you "Gooner"?
And the people whose lives they tear apart, they're just "collateral damage" - right?

Well, just this once, I'm going to step away from the Bowalley Road Rules and tell you to - go fuck yourself!

Chris Trotter said...

You're quite right, Olwyn. Rage clouded my memory. It was "Gooner" who merited (and has now received) the serve - not Anonymous - to whom I tender my abject apologies.

Gooner said...

You're welcome to give me a serve Chris, and I have taken it like the Westie I am - with a puffed out chest and a "good on ya mate" (for getting stuck in).

Chris Trotter said...

You're most welcome, "Gooner".

In the words of C.S. Lewis (from "The Last Battle"):

"Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?"

Tiger Mountain said...

The NZCTU has a probably final chance to redeem itself for 1990. Whether certain affliates will go there is another matter-oh alright, I am thinking public sector unions. I hope they do. One positive is that thousands of change voters and tory supporters alike are also going to be hit by Key and the hollowmen’s reduced work rights.

If young people particularly and wider communities can be engaged it is going to be an interesting few months ahead. Judicious flexible industrial action and the reforging of unity not seen since the 70s/80s will be necessary, but the alternative...

McFlock said...

I hope you are right.

The trouble is the NACTs have got this confidence because for 20 years the union movement has only been marginally militant and Labour is not prepared to be half as revolutionary as key / douglas etc, so it's "three steps right, one step left".

Big words are good, but I'll feel a bit better if we do big action.

Madison said...

Yes, the Unions have their hackles up as they've never recovered from the Nats allowing people the ungodly option of choosing whether or not they want to join a Union. It's funny that you propose massive strikes if the 90-day rule is used on a Union Member but it is only available if the Union accepts it in a contract and I know they never agree to any of the current probation options.

Funny how giving people options is viewed as evil. Obviously you've never been attacked by a Union and I wonder if you've ever been outisde the Union world of influence. Amazingly many people do quite well without Unions and since these laws threaten the useless, lazy and destructive it's funny that the Unions are protesting so much since they claim that unions want the same protections.

Madison said...

I would like a serious explanation. How do these laws challenge and ruin "worker's rights?" As I have been exposed to it the current law puts 95% of the rights in the employee's hands. A person is employed pretty much for life as soon as an employer offers them the job, even if they don't accept. If you've ever tried to fire a failed or useless employee you know how difficult, drawn out and expensive the process is. These laws are trying to even the balance.

The only threat to employees is the possibillity of limiting Union rep access, and the only reason this is a question is because Unions were refusing to recognize intellectual property confidentiality. Sending in reps from competing business to check on members. We have 5 people at my work who could have been fired with the 90-day law and replaced with honest workers and Union membership isn't an issue, only 1 of them is Union. She is only still employed because the Union defended her after I saw her stealing over $200 of property. Of course as a non-Union person my word doesn't count so she still has a job and was allowed to harass me for weeks.

The hard core Unionists are there to protect Unions, not workers. Any law that rewards good workers and any workers for showing up to work and doing their best is a good law but Unions won't like it as it doesn't provide perferential treatment to their members. This law does create the chance that some employers COULD abuse the law, but the current law allows for rampant abuse by employees and that's equally UNFAIR as the Unions like to claim.

Madison said...

Correction in my first comment the last line is to mean that Unions claim they want to eliminate the useless and lazy employees as well.

However in 17 years I have never once seen a Union do anything but the opposite.

Anonymous said...

"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."

This effort from a chappie who habitually ticks off the commos for flight of fancy rhetoric. Chris, about what percentage of National party members are "fascists"?

Sanctuary said...

"...what percentage of National party members are "fascists..?"

Since the right wingers constantly quote Rand as their font of truth, I believe one has to turn to the writings of the left for a proper answer to this.

My guess is Trotsky would have said all of them, and Lenin would have concurred by signing the death warrants.

Anonymous said...

"My guess is Trotsky would have said all of them, and Lenin would have concurred by signing the death warrants."

But what about their children?

Stalin would, at the very least, have sent their politically unreliable offspring to Kolyma for re-education.

Chris Trotter said...

Oh, how droll, "Sanctuary" and "Anonymous". But have you ever been in a position to overhear a clutch of National Party delegates when they're unaware anybody else is listening?

Oh, the inhumanity, the bigotry, the racism, the utter contempt for any form of democracy they can't control: seriously, "fascism" may actually be too mild a description.

You don't believe me? Ask Bomber at Tumeke! Blog - he's had recent experience of this phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

The grizzles of a gaggle of blue rinse biddies amount to fascism?

Mister Trotter, you debase the suffering of all those who were tormented and died at the hands of real fascists. Please will you grow up a bit.

Chris Trotter said...

You're quite right, Anonymous, no sensible person would attach the definition of fascism to the "grizzles of a gaggle of blue rinse biddies".

And I don't.

What I do call fascism. however, is the sort of vicious anti-working-class, anti-Maori and Pasifika, anti-solo-mum attitudes that drive National Party activists to advocate policies they know will hurt and humiliate these middle-class hate-objects.

The refusal to seriously address the inadequate housing, low wages, and under-resourced education and health services made available to people you despise is indisputably a form of social violence.

That the beatings are carried out at one remove - usually by the victims of this officially sanctioned deprivation - instead of by a gang of marauding Brownshirts, doesn't in any way diminish the responsibility of those who have colluded in perpetuating the physical and spiritual environments in which such violence takes place.

The "smug suburban fascists" I refer to are the people who use their vote (i.e. their political power) as a weapon against social and ethnic groups they despise. And that, in my book, is a pretty good definition of fascism.

The most up-to-date historical research into the way Nazi Germany functioned reveals a regime driven as much from below, by the social pathologies of the German middle classes, as it was from above, by the psychopathic Nazi leaders.

Fascism is, in many ways, a peverse form of democracy: a sort of majoritarianism with violence; and its advocates don't always signal their presence by wearing swastika armbands.

Madison said...

So having a large gaggle of Union employees threatening violence (yes, storming the police barricades is violence, and good to see a peace activist like Minto encouraging it) and calling for taking ours back isn't fascism? The urge for compulsory unionism is as well a form of fascism as "you can't trust anyone with money," "business owners take advantage of people by hiring them," and "National always try to destroy the working class" is painting with the same them vs. us brush you so decry.

I've seen the ugly racist and sexist underbelly here in NZ and it knows no real political boundaries. Labour, National, socialist and Greens all start to generalize and degrade when the booze gets flowing, they just have different choices in targest.

Tiger Mountain said...

The merging or close linkage of corporate capitalism and the nationalist state machinery in certain circumstances can warrant the the term fascist. I don’t think NZ has got there yet but there are definite tendencies.
Some of the ‘dark’ new zealanders, sure do talk and act like wannabe fascists. Racist, social engineering-sterilize the poor, MSD meaning the opposite to it’s name, punitive measures against certain groups, increasing surveillance and state powers, the take over at ECan, a ‘Super City’, PPPs-whats wrong with just public? Transfer of wealth from the public sector.
The ‘smug urban fascist’-I can picture scores of them right now, (I know a few personally) the kind of immaculately coiffed SME underling that will tell his drinking buddies all about how “the 90 days allowed them to hire a new guy-win win, really”

Anonymous said...

At the end of it; those who can pay off a mortgage comfortably and worship Jonathan Keys for giving them a tax cut, don't have to care. It is all very well to say Chris Trotter is overreacting (I'm responding to the drunks and reactionaries here)but we are, and indeed been, seeing the gradual destruction of unionisation and thus workplace rights.

The issue of labour rights reform can be progessive and regressive. Take for example that old warhorse Roger Douglas and his private members bill - a regresstion from the hard fought labour reforms of the last century.

Labour access to the workplace is dependant on the employer? Lets just go back to the Victorian area and turn the workplace to the workhouse.

skyler said...

Hi Chris,
Very well put. [I just did a long comment and it disappeared, so apologies if it just went off to be moderated and the below is a repeat of what I previously wrote!]

Since the Nats came into power they have started making changes to legislation that is affecting our quality of life and working conditions. They may not sound as neo-liberal as their counterparts did in the 80's and 90's but they still buy into many of the same policies.

The 80's and 90's was a painful time for unions and workers but over the last 10 years Labour slowly started to undo the damage of Rogernomics and the National government of the 1990s. BUT the current National government is now slowly but surely undoing the work of the past 10 years and is taking us backwards towards neo-liberalism. This is not the answer as has been shown all over the world during the
current economic recession. This time it is vital that workers and unions are more prepared and don't let the government get away with making our working and living conditions a misery.

I am really glad to see the CTU putting together a strong campaign against the government's proposed changes to employment legislation. My own union the TEU is definitely doing all it can to support the campaign and oppose these changes to legislation. You can read my brief thoughts on how I think the changes could affect our tertiary sector here:

My worry is that most New Zealanders haven't noticed the changes the government has been making and propose to make. Others I talk to are cynical and say that nothing they do will make a difference so why botther - how do we motivate the cynics and the apathetic? Maybe by giving examples of when mass protest has changes the mind of the government? e.g. the marches against mining

Would love to hear some peoples thoughts on how to mobilse people to come to the rally on the 21st and I look forward to seeing some friends and fellow workers there.