The Politics Of Kindness? Such work as young workers are able to get tends to be indifferently rewarded and undertaken in conditions of considerable precariousness. Even those with impressive tertiary credentials struggle. Those without credentials find themselves consigned to social limbo. A living purgatory, inhabited by persons of no economic value beyond that of holding down the wages of the working poor.
THE RISE in the unemployment rate, from 3.9 to 4.3 percent, may not sound like a lot – but it is. Not only because it represents a further 10,000 New Zealanders officially without work, but also because it’s the sort of news no genuine progressive government ever wants to hear. If progressive government is about anything, then it’s first and foremost about constantly expanding the number of citizens in good jobs with good pay. Any progressive government confronted with a steadily rising tide of joblessness should expect to drown.
Nor is it simply the raw percentage figure of 4.3 percent confronting the Coalition Government. Much more significant is the concomitant rise in the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEETs). This number now stands at just under 100,000 15-24 year-olds, or 14 percent. A record quarterly rise.
The picture painted by these statistics is not a pretty one. It shows a country in which secure, well-remunerated employment is fast becoming (if it has not already become) the preserve of people over forty. Not only that, but a labour market which has effectively become “grandfathered”.
There is an ever-decreasing layer of the workforce which enjoys good money and good employment contracts – and will go on enjoying them until retirement. For the rest of the workforce, however, simply growing older and more experienced no longer guarantees better pay and conditions. That particular conveyor belt: the one which their predecessors in the workforce rode to a secure prosperity, has been dismantled.
Such work as these younger generations of workers are able to get tends to be indifferently rewarded and undertaken in conditions of considerable precariousness. Even those with impressive tertiary credentials struggle. Those without credentials – the NEETs mentioned above – find themselves consigned to social limbo. A place of living purgatory, inhabited by persons of no economic value beyond that of holding down the wages of the working poor. Those who have not become criminals, addicts or mentally unwell, float like ghosts through a society which has been taught not to see them – because they are not real.
There is absolutely no long-term future for a progressive government which allows this state of affairs to persist. The joyful and unanticipated resurrection of the Left and its ascension into government – which forms the core of Jacinda’s redemptive political narrative – has unmistakeable echoes of the “Harrowing of Hell”. This is the religious tradition that has Christ, in the period between his crucifixion and resurrection, “descending into Hell”. According to the tale, the Son of Man prevails against the Gates of Hell, overcomes its infernal defenders, frees the imprisoned souls, and leads them into the light.
Nothing less is expected of progressive governments. Those locked-up in the social hell of joblessness, mental illness, addiction and economic impotence are supposed to be the very first item on the Left’s “to-do” list. The infernal defenders of Capitalism are supposed to be confronted and defeated, and the imprisoned ones uplifted into the dignity of labour. Only then can the Left’s resurrection be considered genuine.
In the most prosaic political terms, it means that the number of people out of work; and most assuredly, the number of NEETs; must fall – and fall decisively – if the Left is to rise, and stay risen.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 8 February 2019.