Monday 11 June 2018

Forget the 1970s, Labour’s Fair Pay Agreements will take New Zealand back to the 1890s!

Poacher Turned Gamekeeper? Will Jim Bolger, the one-time master-poacher of worker’s rights, be able to transform himself, over the course of the coming months, into the incorruptible game-keeper of their interests?

“FAIR PAY AGREEMENTS” (FPA) are the final proof that Labour is evolving backwards into the Liberal Party. Predictably, National’s ignorance of its own country’s history has rendered it incapable of placing this latest example of Labour milksoppery into its proper context. Scott Simpson can witter-on all he likes about Jim Bolger (of whom more later) taking New Zealand back to the 1970s. A much more accurate historical invocation would be the 1890s. Or, if we’re being precise, 1894. That was the year the Liberal Government of Richard John Seddon passed the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act (ICAA) – the true inspiration for Iain Lees-Galloway’s FPAs.

The ICCA empowered the state to bring employers and workers together for the purpose of establishing minimum rates-of-pay and working conditions across whole industries and occupations. If these could not be arrived at by negotiation, then binding arbitration was available from a special Arbitration Court. Crucially, unions and employer associations who submitted their disputes to the Court were forbidden from engaging in strikes or lockouts. These “awards” of the Arbitration Court spelled out the minimum standards workers could expect and prevented the employers’ competitors from initiating a ‘race to the bottom’ on wages and conditions.

The parallels with Labour’s proposed FPAs are obvious. What has yet to be established, however, is whether or not the advisory group headed by Bolger will incorporate a twenty-first century equivalent of the Arbitration Court into the new FPA machinery. Without such a mechanism, the negotiation of anything resembling a useful FPA will be next-to-impossible. Strikes and lockouts have already been ruled out of the process, so in the absence of a binding arbitration mechanism, negotiations between employers and unions could be prolonged indefinitely. Or, at the very least, until the National Party is re-elected and the legislation enabling FPAs repealed.

This will be the true test of whether Bolger’s ‘road to Damascus’ conversion: from hard-line anti-union promoter of the Employment Contract’s Act, to conscience-stricken repudiator of neoliberalism and all its works; is genuine. With National’s workplace relations spokesperson, Scott Simpson, on record as promising to repeal all FPA-related legislation, any hopes Labour may have entertained of Bolger inspiring an outbreak of constructive bi-partisanship have already been dashed.

The best the Left can hope for now is that the one-time master-poacher of worker’s rights will, over the course of the coming months, transform himself into the incorruptible game-keeper of their interests.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 6 June 2018.


Wayne Mapp said...

What makes you think the National MPs are ignorant of their own country's history? Just about all of them have degrees across a wide variety of disciplines. In particular, many if not most, will be well versed in the political history of New Zealand.

But it would make zero political sense to refer to the 1890's. The 1970's are the obvious marker. There is still a large number of voters who recall the near constant strikes in the freezing works and the transport sector. Unions virtually paralysed productivity growth during that time. The BNZ Head Office in Wellington and the Mangere bridge took nearly a decade to build due to union disruption.

So anything that smacks of bringing back that level of union domination is an obvious political attack point.

However, maybe Jim Bolger will ameliorate all of that. He will be acutely aware (as will Winston Peters) that the country does not want a repeat of the 1970's. Although there is a strand of Labour and the left who seem to look back on the 1970's with nostalgia.

jh said...

Bolger is a pompous ass.

Noelle Mc Carthy
media have always been attracted by something: bad news. Remember “if it belleds it leads”.
And the drive for clicks in an ever tougher market place makes sensationalising stories or pandering to a particular demographic more and more apealing. That said politicians have their own responsibilities.

Jim Bolger
There are those who cynical political leaders who will use what I describe as xenophobic populism and we see examples of that around the world and there are some examples in New Zealand

Noelle McCarthy
Jim Bloger was prime minister from 1990 to1997.
“Do you see NZ First and Winston Peters as playing in that same political space as figures like Donald trump and Nigel Farage?”

Jim Bolger
Broadly the same space but Winston has done that many times before so he's not following them but the same space. And ah there were always a percentage of society who will follow that because it explains their own inadequacies often, that they haven't been successful, so blame someone else based on identifying some definable group by religion, by ethnicity by colour, by nationality, and you blame them and that is, to my mind an appalling on those who do it but on any society that would accept that as a reason to change policies.

vested interests agree

to others "the high rate of immigration is a national disaster"

jh said...

Chapter 5 Landmarks The Littleman Gets His chance. Above Palmerston is a monument to Sir John McKenzie who used taxation to break up the large estates. On the Cheviot estate there had been 60 people working whereas later there were 600. That was part of our DNA
Compare that to today's weasels:

What do you want to be remembered for?”
“Going back to that main point I think it was Muldoon who famously said “I want to leave the country in no worse condition than I found it”.
“Isn’t that a low ambition?”
“Yes I want to leave the country in better condition than I found it and if theres something (I genuinely beleive) It would be lifting our confidence to a certain degree about how we see our selves in the world and what we think we are capable of achieving. Now I think individually there is masses of ambition that sits out there there but can we actually take that and convert that to take the opportunity .
And I always thought what was happening in the opposition of politics (of course they would oppose National, that’s their job actually apart from everything else) but it was a bit negative about our place in the world. So we played a bit about whether people coming here was a good or bad thing whether people should invest here was a good or bad thing, or whether we have a trade agreement with parts of Asia was a good or bad thing, but actually in my mind, the reason that I want to say yes to those things is because they are the opportunities that reflect our opportunities to both get wealthier (which is all about what you can do with that money) and then ultimately the opportunities for Kiwis. I’d like New Zealanders to feel (after my time as Prime Minister) they have become more confident outward looking nation more multicultural.

John Key to John Campbell

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Jim Bolger will ameliorate all of that" LOL. Perhaps so, but it hasn't stopped him being attacked by members of your own party Wayne. It's sort of like Trump wanting to get rid of everything that Obama did. If Labour supports it, it must be bad even though they're using an ex-National party Prime Minister and extreme conservative as a front for it. Jesus Christ I hope the unions have something to say – well I know they will – but I do hope that for once they are listened to. The most successful economies in the 20th century and after actually listen to what unions had to say, use their expertise to help efficiencies, and in the process raised wages. You've only got to look at the working conditions in Germany and compare them with New Zealand. Or Australia, or Finland, or Sweden, or Norway, or to some extent Japan, though that seems to have become moribund largely due to old boy corruption among other things I suspect. As someone with a kid who starting his working career, but doesn't have access to the old boy/private school network I think I know a little bit more about working conditions in this country than ex-National party ministers. What people forget when they crap on about the strikes, was that most of us had decent well paying jobs, and some chance of bringing up a family on one income. Only those of the chattering classes who have benefited from neoliberalism can remotely afford to do that these days.

Geoff Fischer said...

Chris is critical of Jim Bolger's political legacy, and "Guerilla Surgeon" describes Bolger as an "extreme conservative". However most New Zealanders would regard Bolger as a political moderate. On conscience vote issues - abortion, divorce, same-sex marriage etc - his votes reflect his conservative Catholic faith and he is conservative on other social issues as well. He is sympathetic to the notion of community, the welfare state, and a rough level of material equality as the basis for "the decent society" that he espoused. That is to say that he comes from a very different mould to Jenny Shipley who eventually overthrew his leadership in order to pursue genuinely extreme neo-liberal economic and social policies. In the normal course he would be "Sir James Bolger" along with notable neo-liberals such as "Sir Michael Cullen" and "Dame Jenny Shipley", but he chose not to be on account of the egalitarian principles which significantly influenced his life in politics. The differences within the two major political parties in New Zealand are greater than the differences between them, and Jim Bolger sits on the more moderate, egalitarian end of the political spectrum.
Those on the left have similar difficulty in objectively evaluating the legacy of Robert Muldoon. Their criticism of him has not progressed beyond that made in 1984 by the ideologues in Treasury, Roger Douglas and others from the far right wing of the Labour Party. Does it matter? I think it does. If you don't have a good understanding of how New Zealand operates and what motivates its people - including the likes of Jim Bolger, Rob Muldoon and Jenny Shipley - then you may struggle to bring about effective change for the good.

greywarbler said...

A piece from The Herald by Claire Trevett in 2007 is informative.
Jim Bolger - Regrets and Legacies

Jon Johansson Political Scientist Victoria University, critique:
On the Bolger years: "In the first term, they continued the significant reforms of the Fourth Labour Government and took it to areas even Labour had feared to tread. Bolger went into the 1990 election pledging the restoration of a decent society. It didn't look that decent when he immediately embarked on lowering wages, writing the unions out of the statute books and lowering benefits. Labour has ameliorated some of the worst effects but the most significant reforms have not been changed."

And on Bolger himself:
On Bolger: "What came across was an authentic sense he was one of us, for both good and ill. Bolger is a good model for John Key, but there's too much bad history for Key to embrace Bolger's contribution."

and -
by Guyon Espiner in 2017
NZ has produced The 9th Floor, a series of conversations with five New Zealand Prime Ministers, from 1989-2008. In the third episode Jim Bolger says it's time to give some power back to the unions.

The audio for the launch of the book The 9th Floor:

Overview of the '90s from Radionz:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well Geoff, Jim Bolger might seem to you are moderate, but did my ears deceive me the other day or did I hear him boasting about establishing the employment contracts act on the radio? It makes a lot more sense than some of the conservatives who comment on this site claiming that various people in the Greens and/or Labour are members of the "extreme left". Suggest you look up "Overton window".

Victor said...


'In the normal course he would be "Sir James Bolger" along with notable neo-liberals such as "Sir Michael Cullen" and "Dame Jenny Shipley", but he chose not to be on account of the egalitarian principles which significantly influenced his life in politics'

I've met Jim a couple of times and rather liked him. In addition, although he headed an, at times, ferociously neo-liberal administration, he seemed personally to be a Burkean conservative and hence a political type for whom I have some time.

I also thought that his getting rid of the neo-liberals' darling, Ruth Richardson, was one of the boldest such manoeuvres since Harry Truman sacked Douglas McArthur.

But an egalitarian Jim is not. If he was, he would never (grudgingly or otherwise) have countenanced the ECA or the "Mother of all Budgets".

I suspect that his fairly openly avowed republicanism is ultimately a reflection of his Irish heritage, with its understandable anti-Imperial bias, and that, ideologically, he'd be perfectly at home in Fianna Fáil. But I may be wrong, for who knows to which drums (ancestral or otherwise) any of our hearts truly beat.

Geoff Fischer said...

The fourth Labour government opened the economy to competition from more efficient off shore producers with much lower labour costs. If domestic producers were to survive they needed to lower their own costs dramatically and swiftly. In that regard the following National government had little choice. Labour costs had to be slashed, and the power of the unions had to be broken. National was left to do Labour's dirty work, and it is noteworthy that the fifth Labour government did not restore the union system. Neither will the sixth. Today many of New Zealand's most profitable industries (particularly dairy, horticulture and tourism) depend on third world labour and third world labour rates. I don't think that Labour is going to risk upsetting the capitalist apple cart, but the mere fact that Jim Bolger is willing to engage in a project designed to raise the living conditions of New Zealand workers suggests that he will go as far as the Labour government will allow in order to make life tolerable for ordinary New Zealanders. In 1990 Labour had set the operating parameters for James Bolger, and the same is true today. He will do what he can, even if that not may amount to very much. In the process, he did his best to restrain the excesses of Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley, he initiated the Treaty of Waitangi settlements, and he threw his support behind New Labour's Kiwibank project. I see no reason to shift from my opinion that "Jim Bolger sits on the more moderate, egalitarian end of the political spectrum".

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"chose not to be on account of the egalitarian principles"
I suspect more because of his Irishness and only partially hidden dislike of the British Crown.

Comorant said...

I have been encouraged by Bolger's comments in recent years. That we have gone a little too far and that the Unions should be given some of their power back. I think he may lament the loss of egalitarian NZ more than the current labour lot. Even if he played a part in it's destruction.

Victor said...


I do recall listening to a long oration by Jim Bolger on the occasion of the arrival of the Australian replica 'Endeavour' in Auckland Harbour circa 1994.

It lasted around 20 minutes with many an inspiring historical reference to the South-West Pacific but nary a mention of the words 'Cook', 'Banks', 'Britain', 'England', 'Yorkshire', 'Royal Navy' etc.

This, I thought, was a rhetorical accomplishment of some sort. His decision not to take a knighthood therefore came as no surprise to me. Obviously, it had nothing to do with egalitarianism.

May I add that, were I offered a "K" (of which there is absolutely no possibility), I would accept it with alacrity, as it would turn my infinitely better half into Lady Whatever, to the infinite chagrin of some of my in-laws.

greywarbler said...

Geoff Fischer
1 The fourth Labour government opened the economy to competition from more efficient off shore producers with much lower labour costs. If domestic producers were to survive they needed to lower their own costs dramatically and swiftly.

2 In that regard the following National government had little choice. Labour costs had to be slashed, and the power of the unions had to be broken. National was left to do Labour's dirty work,

3 and it is noteworthy that the fifth Labour government did not restore the union system.

1 The 'efficient off shore producers with much lower labour costs' is the nub of the matter. NZ had an economy that was relatively evenly balanced, but constraint was needed on rising labour costs. What the 4th Labour government did was to offer business an ultimatum, change the character of your business and pay your workers less, or go out of business. They gave NZ business opportunities away to those who could adjust and overseas businesses who were interested in stepping into NZ shoes, just as our water is given away today.

Neo libs despise ordinary struggling Ns, our country and its past values, and have almost eliminated them. We now are a rip-off, competitive, crass, nouveau riche nation where one has to search for those with real commitment to fellow NZs whatever their wealth, or sporting prowess.

2 Is questionable. The National Party had such poor vision and expertise in effectively running an economy that when Labour had done the job of reorganising it for them along the increasingly popular neo lib, freemarket lines, National were quietly triumphant. They happily snowballed the effects, crushing worker activism and diminishing welfare at a time when any politician with integrity could see it would be most needed as the economy was slaughtered and cut into manageable chunks for disposal.

They gave the job of crushing people's standard of living to one of the new ambitious females, Ruth Richardson vaguely feminist oriented, university educated, and without any emotional attachment to the working class, imbued with moralism and the desire for efficiency. She was dispensable after being in the vanguard which carried National Party towards their desired goals. A perfect attack dog, very willing to chomp on the unworthy. That was so successful for them, that Jenny Shipley got a shoe-in to the PM job with the same hostile approach to any failing female not hardened up to the neo lib boot camp approach.

3 Labour had been white-anted by the upwardly-mobile smarty-pants in their midst, from union leaders to the aspirational middle-upper class, who had personalised all the ambition of their muster and stepped out of their roles into better management positions with ease. There was so little strength and comradeship in the remainder of the party that just preserving a working model of a political party, vaguely left, was the prime task for Helen Clark and her cohort without attempting a U-turn on swingeing policies of recent political terms.

Geoff Fischer said...

Jim Bolger was a reluctant servant of the British crown, and a would-be republican. You could argue that his refusal to accept royal honours reflects that Irish Catholic antipathy to the British crown rather than his egalitarianism, and I would answer that it would be difficult to separate those particular threads in his thinking. What I can say is that it is principle, rather than self-interest, that guides him in this particular matter. I would add that he is no William Tell. He is a pragmatic politician with egalitarian, republican and nationalistic sympathies who has chosen to work within a colonial regime and therefore within the "limits of the possible" as he sees them. I chose to refuse the demands of the regime, paid the price, and would do the same again without hesitation. Bolger's approach is very different to my own, but I can still regard him as an honorable man - just as I regarded some of my jailers as honorable men and women who believed that they had little choice but to accept things the way they were and to act as decently as they were able in the circumstances in which they found themselves.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I must confess Victor, if I was offered a knighthood (the very thought makes me roll around on the floor laughing.) I would be in two minds as to whether to tell them "no" in no uncertain terms, or accept on the grounds that it might get me fawning treatment by restaurateurs and Americans. :)

Victor said...


Your conflation of republicanism with egalitarianism just doesn't hold water.

Would you argue that the US political establishment (both Trumpite and anti-Trumpite) is egalitarian? Surely not.

Would you make the same claim for the anti-British republican nationalists who introduced the full rigour of Apartheid into South Africa? I sincerely hope not.

Would you make that claim for the Russian kleptocracy or the Chinese Confucio-Leninist oligarchy? Again, I sincerely hope not.

Nor, btw, was the regime which lopped-off Charles I's head egalitarian.

But you might...just might....make that claim for the politics of Sweden, Norway, Denmark or the Netherlands.

And, yes, I agree with you that Bolger is a reasonably decent guy. But that doesn't make him an egalitarian in my books. Far from it, if you look at the record of his government.

You are obviously a man of principle who's willing to stand up for your beliefs. I respect you for this. But they are beliefs for which I can find neither rhyme nor reason.

Geoff Fischer said...

Victor: You are quite right. There is a formal egalitarianism expressed in republican institutions, the system of free market capitalism and so on, which is often associated with extremes of material inequality. On the other hand there are formally hierarchical conservative monarchical regimes based on hereditary privilege which provide for a high degree of material equality. So what is going on here?
A benevolent conservative regime is one of noblesse oblige, guided by a theological or philosophical system in which the rulers accept a paternalistic duty to provide for the material well-being of all their subjects. Formally egalitarian regimes, on the other hand, may proceed from the assumption that all their subjects are equal in every meaningful respect, equal by definition, and that therefore the state has no need to ensure equal outcomes.
But it would be wrong to assume that our choice lies between formal equality coupled with gross material inequality, and formal inequality overlaid by a paternalistic social ethos. In New Zealand right now alien and corrupt monarchical political institutions are associated with the most cruel pernicious and rapacious form of global capitalism. Both must go.