Excellent! So blow you employer windbags: crack your cheeks! Rage, blow! Spew forth cataracts of media releases, unleash your Facebook hurricanoes. Spout your nonsense about the Seventies until the voters are drenched with lies and the public square awash with fake news.
WELL, THAT DIDN’T take very long, did it? Nine months into this government’s first term and employer organisations up and down the country are on the warpath. There are full-page adverts and billboards for all the old folks who still respond to the printed word and a digital campaign for everybody else. The message? Simple. The proposed reforms to the Employment Relations Act must be “fixed”. Not “fixed” as in repaired, you understand, but “fixed” as in “the fix is in” and “the fight is fixed”. Basically, the bosses’ reps are telling the Labour-NZF-Green government that their members are happy with the way things are in the workplace and that no changes are necessary. Got that? No changes!
Wait a minute! Are these the same employer groups who, just a few weeks ago, were announcing their determination to be “part of the solution”? Yep, they sure are. But, a lot can happen in a few weeks. For example, you can be bombarded with hundreds of angry e-mails (from the businesses large and small that fund these groups) saying: “What the fuck do you idiots think you’re doing!”
Seems that New Zealand’s employers are not about to let union officials onto their premises at any time of the day or night simply because they’ve received an anguished call for help from one of their members. And why should it only be the small employers with fewer than twenty staff who get to have all the fun of waiting until Day 89 to fire their naïve 90-day probationers? No. New Zealand’s employers have made it very clear that they’re not paying their subs to have a bunch of pinko politicians order them to go on negotiating with their employees in good faith until a settlement is reached. No way. If Simon Bridges could be persuaded let them walk away from the negotiating table whenever they decide there’s nothing more to say, then so can Iain Lees-Galloway.
He’s a weak link that Iain Lees-Galloway. Ever since he backed away from his party’s solemn promise to repeal the hated “Hobbit Law”, it’s been clear that the guy isn’t what you’d call a tower of union-backing strength. Word is that the MBIE bureaucrats had him house-trained in a matter of days. Hugh Watt he’s not. Nor Stan Rodger neither. [Ministers of Labour in the Kirk and Lange Labour Governments respectively – Ed.]
But, if Iain Lees-Galloway is a weak link, then the NZ First caucus is a frayed rope. The various employer groups saw what just one full-page ad from the Sensible Sentencing Trust could do to the populists’ reluctant agreement to repeal the Three Strikes legislation. How long is their willingness to sing “Solidarity Forever” with the unions likely to last once they’ve driven past a few 10-metre-long billboards encouraging them to “fix” the employment relations legislation?
The answer – as always when the question is NZ First – depends on Winston Peters. A decision to throw in the towel of workplace relations reform would be a decision to leave a legacy of gutlessness and surrender. Certainly, it would make a nonsense of his determination to give capitalism a human face. It would also render incomprehensible his post-Cabinet press conference remarks about workers seeing his coalition government as a friend willing to listen. Winston won’t turn his back on all that just yet. He’s not about to let the unions carve the single word “Scab” on his political tombstone.
The other reason why Winston is more likely than not to urge resistance to the employers’ campaign is because he, unlike so many of the youngsters writing National’s attack-lines, remembers very clearly what happened in the 1970s.
Rather than the grey Polish shipyard so beloved of neoliberal revisionist historians like Michael Bassett, Peters remembers a New Zealand in which a dirt-poor Maori family from Northland could send their talented son to Auckland University without going into debt. He will recall, too, an era when working people did not live in fear of the boss. Yes there were strikes, and they could be damned inconvenient. But, seeing what happened to New Zealand after 1984 and 1991, Peters – along with his old comrade Jim Bolger – has come to understand that it was precisely because working people had trade unions to defend them that they also had jobs that paid them a living wage, houses they could afford, and children who could, and did, expect their lives to be better than their parents’.
So blow you employer windbags: crack your cheeks! Rage, blow! Spew forth cataracts of media releases, unleash your Facebook hurricanoes. Spout your nonsense about the Seventies until the voters are drenched with lies and the public square awash with fake news.
Spit and rage all you want. This government is determined to put a human face upon New Zealand capitalism – regardless of its well-funded protests.
Not for the bosses’ sake – but for ours.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 29 June 2018.