Friday 3 January 2020

Someone To Follow, Something To Blame.

Poshing The Proletariat: As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, the question for New Zealand politicians is a simple one. Will workers’ expectations of fair treatment erode faster than their rising political determination to find someone to follow and something to blame? Significant sections of the United States’ and the United Kingdom’s working-classes have already answered this question by following along behind populist politicians – Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – who are only too happy to blame “illegal immigration” and/or “the free movement of peoples” for their troubles.

I NEVER BELIEVED it was possible, and, in a way, I’ve been proved right. Workers who have grown up in, or hearing about, the “old” New Zealand, would never consent willingly to accept the wages and conditions of “Third World” workers. Being paid a decent wage and treated fairly by your employer are expectations deeply ingrained in the New Zealand worker. Enormous pressure is required to secure the abandonment of such expectations. The consequences: economically, socially, politically; are potentially quite significant – and dangerous.

Expectations of fair treatment arrived here with the very first wave of European migrants. Samuel Parnell, a carpenter, insisted on an eight-hour day and, in colonial conditions of acute labour scarcity, he got it. That scarcity: New Zealand’s small population more-or-less guaranteeing a sellers’ market in labour power; underpinned this being “God’s own country” for the ordinary working person for nearly a century. From 1894 until 1991, or, more specifically, from the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act to the Employment Contracts Act, the collective strength of the New Zealand working-class was nurtured and protected by the New Zealand state.

During that century it became an accepted part of working-class life that wages would be sufficient to raise a family in, if not luxury, then relative comfort. State house construction kept rentals low. Cheap, state-provided and/or guaranteed loans put private home-ownership well within the reach of most working-class families. A world-class health and education system made it possible for the children of workers to move up into professional and managerial occupations. Those with entrepreneurial flair could set up their own businesses. The country’s comprehensive welfare system meant that personal misfortune or commercial misjudgement did not automatically result in financial misery.

New Zealand’s was as solid a social-democratic society as any to be found elsewhere in the world. It could not, however, withstand the sudden and enormous expansion in the quantity of labour available to global capitalism which accompanied the opening up of the People’s Republic of China and the demise of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire. Over the course of a single decade, what had been a sellers’ market for labour in the Western economies became a buyers’ market. Workers who valued themselves too highly saw their employers’ businesses relocated to places where the labour was cheaper – much cheaper – and trade union protections non-existent.

The economic and social consequences of globalisation in the West have been evident for some time. Not only here in New Zealand, but all across what used to be called the “First World”. Factory closures; mass lay-offs; depopulation; urban decay: these were just the start. In their wake came the social pathologies of homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence and the pernicious expansion of organised crime. What had been proud working-class communities simply imploded. Those who could escape, got out. Those who couldn’t, rotted from the inside out.

Not that there wasn’t still a lot of work to be done in the First World. Much to the frustration of employers, however, expectations of fair reward and treatment proved to be astonishingly resilient. Once strong and proud working-class towns and cities were an unconscionably long time dying. The answer to this irksome longevity of working-class pride was the same in New Zealand as elsewhere: import workers with lower expectations.

Maintaining a steady downward pressure on workers’ incomes by means of increased immigration was especially important in New Zealand where profits have for so long been underwritten by low wages. Indeed, this system, supported for nearly three decades by both Labour- and National-led governments, has produced industries in which the imposition of a “living wage” would render an alarming number of individual businesses uneconomic.

As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, the question for New Zealand politicians is a simple one. Will workers’ expectations of fair treatment erode faster than their rising political determination to find someone to follow and something to blame? Significant sections of the United States’ and the United Kingdom’s working-classes have already answered this question by following along behind populist politicians – Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – who are only too happy to blame “illegal immigration” and/or “the free movement of peoples” for their troubles.

For the present Coalition Government, raising the minimum wage was a very good start. Now it needs to cut immigration – to the bone.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 January 2020.


John Hurley said...

In her UN speech Jacinda Adern talks about tribalism, how easy we can be made into tribes. She misquotes Robert Sapolsky who (she says) invites us to imagine a world where we recognise "us" based on a common humanity. I don't think for a second Sapolsky believes that.
Good luck with that. Brazil, South Africa, NZ?

Remember that TV One program "That's a bit Racist" and "the science" - Harvard. It turns out to be bunk:
Huge meta-analysis (92 studies with 87,418 participants) found that changing implicit biases has no impact on explicit bias or actual behavior. The implicit bias training industry is a multi-billion dollar a year swindle.

Shane McDowall said...

Reduce immigration to the bone - Fat chance of that.

The Right love low wages and the appearance of economic growth.

The Left are die-hard multiculturalists.

Either way, the Western working-class are screwed.

Winston has been very quiet on the topic of immigration, which is odd given that most of his political career has been based on beating the anti-immigration drum.

And we have had an average surplus of 55,000 arrivals over departures for the last five years.

Once people in Third World countries have figured out how our immigration system works, they then figure out how to screw it.

Our immigration policy over at least the last 30 years has consisted of patching up holes three to five years after after the holes are obvious to the blind.

Anyone who believes that a National or Labour led government will do anything to stop the flood from the Third World probably believes in the Easter Bunny.

Odysseus said...

As the excellent film "Deplorables" which you shared on 21 Decemeber points out Chris, people in the rust-belt voted for Trump to save their communities; they voted for Brexit to "take back control" of their laws rather than having them imposed by unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. Immigration was indeed a factor including the negative impact on wages and services. Many people here voted for Labour and New Zealand First at the last election because they promised to reduce immigration. This has not happened. New Zealand has had the highest rate of immigration per capita in the OECD. The population will shortly hit 5 milllion, with some 450,000 people being added, mainly through immigration, in the last 5 years. New Zealand's infrastructure cannot cope with these numbers. The housing market has long been out of control. There has been some upward movement in wages including the minimum wage but overall insufficient to bridge the ever expanding gap between reality and what were once the achievable aspirations of ordinary people like home ownership.

National are very vulnerable on immigration. You would think the coalition would seek to make this a point of difference. But Ardern is an internationalist who appears to believe we should allow the UN to determine our immigration policies. The International Union of Socialist Youth of which she was president is committed to "open borders" as are many in the Green Party. NZ First's credibility on the issue has been shot to pieces by Peters' support for the UN Migration Compact. Meanwhile the media continue to run the line that somehow any discussion of immigration is "Far Right". Who will New Zealanders turn to for redress on this important matter which directly bears on their living standards and their children's future? That is the question.

Jens Meder said...

If an enemy is needed for political success, then instead of finding human enemies, why not declare poverty as the enemy ?
Then we would not have to fight anyone but only focus on the constructive effort of adequate wealth ownership creation.
Systematic participation in the effort by ALL is bound to achieve victory over poverty eventually, and in our Social Democratic welfare state spirit this could be symbolically initiated by granting the $1000.- KiwiSaver kick-start to all who have not received it so far - unconditionally from new-born babies to seniors alive at the date of introducing it.
Yes, raising the minimum wage and reducing immigration might to some extent reduce poverty in New Zealand, but they do not guarantee victory over poverty through at least some meaningful personal wealth ownership by all.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Chris
Asking a New Zealand government to turn off immigration is like telling a heroin addict to go cold turkey. New Zealand capital cannot survive without cheap migrant labour. Neither will it survive with migrant labour, but mass immigration does at least postpone the inevitable day of reckoning by a few more years.
We need to face the reality that the politicians 0f the colonial regime are operating in circumstances which render them incapable of doing anything that makes sound economic and social sense, and therefore that there is little point in advising them of a rational course of action.

John Hurley said...

"Portugal bucks the populist trend".

There is a darker side to the “Portuguese miracle”

An unregulated boom in property and tourism in Lisbon and Porto may have contributed to positive growth and unemployment figures, but it has benefited tour operators, property speculators, and estate agents, rather than locals.

With neoliberal housing policies introduced by the previous government still largely in place, many have been forced to sell their family homes to property developers or rent them out as “Air BnB” apartments, emptying whole neighbourhoods of their historical inhabitants – and their soul. With a lack of public or private investment in key sectors of the economy, it is not unusual for foreign visitors to learn with some surprise that their “Tuk Tuk” driver or “free tour” guide is an out-of-work journalist or university researcher.

In the private sector working conditions remain precarious, despite the efforts of trade unions and the more radical left-wing parties to improve the situation. Many employers use recibos verdes – “green receipts”, a bit like zero hours contracts in the UK, but without the contract – to avoid paying sick pay or paid holidays for their employees.

In Setubal, 50km from Lisbon, and one of the biggest ports in the country, 90% of dockers and other port workers are paid by the day. In 2017, 25.7% of workers were covered by the minimum salary of 600 Euros, in a context of rising rents and property prices.

Yet in a sense these are the lucky ones: between 2010 and 2015 during the period of austerity, 500,000 people – 5% of the population – simply left the country, and most have yet to return. The older and less-qualified never had this option, and many were condemned to dire poverty, from which there has been little relief in recent years.

With the State pension under 300 Euros per month, it is a common sight in the larger cities to see respectable-looking older people going through the bins, often in the early morning so as to avoid public shame. For many inhabitants of the Portuguese interior – those far from the major airports – the situation is equally desperate.

And lowest turn out. Seems rather familiar. The media will be able to make a positive story out of it however

Unknown said...

The third decade of the century starts Jan 1st 2021.

pat said...

The ignored consequence of globalisation was always going to be an equalisation of income of labour ....and the western disengagement with democracy is a natural consequence of a negative feedback loop.,,,as the rewards flow to fewer and fewer more and more disengage......revolution or war is the inevitable consequence....if CC dosnt destroy us first.

Brendan McNeill said...


The picture is more complex than you paint it. Yes globalisation and mass immigration has proved destructive to worker’s wages and conditions and both National and Labour have shown no interest in changing the status quo despite their rhetoric.

But there is another factor that is equally destabilising, and that is a cultural change that has over several decades brought different expectations around work and employment. In addition, we have become more bureaucratic, more risk averse, and on the employment front, more litigious with the ERA effectively becoming little more than a stick to beat employers, even good employers.

Which brings me to the question of employee expectations. There are jobs now that indigenous Kiwi workers simply refuse to perform. Farm labouring, rest home care, seasonal harvesting, to name a few. This refusal has led to the demand for immigrant workers.

Then there is there are issues of drug use and dependency. Many jobs go unfilled because prospective employees refuse to submit to a drug test.

And then once employed, there is the question of work ethic and expectations. Turning up to work and beginning with breakfast was not unusual for some of my staff, others I know who joined following university graduation found working for five full days just too exhausting. Others simply couldn’t get to work on time – ever. Even when I agreed to allow them to start an hour later in the mornings, and finish later in the afternoon, they still couldn’t get to work on time! One of my accounting staff could be guaranteed not to make it to work Monday’s or Fridays most weeks, and was happy to have it recorded as leave with out pay.

Try running a business with staff like this, and you quickly realise why employers start to preference immigrants whose work ethic is often superior to their Kiwi counterparts. This is a complex picture, and I’m not sure turning off the immigration tap would deliver better wages or conditions for Kiwi workers, but it would make life more difficult for many Kiwi businesses.

John Laurie said...

Already in 1853 in Christchurch employers were planning to import cheap workers from overseae.

From Henry Sewell's journal - report of an election meeting (July 1853)

"Sir Thomas Tancred followed for his Brother, but tumbled right over the important question of Chinese Labour, and was accordingly groaned down by the crowd below of working men; who are up in arms at the notion of competition in the labour Market. Sir Thomas did his brother infinite harm"

New Zealand would never have developed as an egalitarian country with strong unions and social welfare if such plans had not proved politically impossible.

Unknown said...

Neo-liberalism will have to be amended. Everything will work out fine with a Red and Green govt.Immigration will have to be limited as much as possible.

John Hurley said...

@ Brendan McNeill

What you say sounds correct. The whole social contract seems to have broken down.

But vested interests have a lot to answer for:

CORIN You don’t want immigration to fall, though, do you? I just want to say something. I saw you in a speech after the Budget, and you were speaking to a big room of businesspeople – some of the biggest business minds in the country – and you stood up and you said, “Don’t worry about Treasury’s figure or estimation that it will go back to the trend of 12,000.” You were confident it was going to be a lot higher than that.

JOHN I just think it’s unlikely it will go to 12,000.

CORIN But it was like you wanted immigration to go up, because you were telling them, “Don’t worry. The demand in the economy is going to stay there. That’s what’s keeping New Zealand afloat.”

Then there is the silencing of the wrong voices by activist academics (Massey)

All in all some voices (MSM) have been privileged and the others excluded.

John Hurley said...

To me this is as Green as you get:

Ranginui Walker
The people of New Zealand have already opted for zero population growth by limiting family size to an average of 2.1 children. That intuitive decision of the people to balance human reproduction with the internal resources of the country is being contradicted by the government determining unilaterally to mount a pro-active immigration policy. Their consent is manufactured by silencing critics with the argument that skilled and entrepreneurial migrants will promote economic growth and create jobs. Throughout the three years that this mantra was being recited, there were continuous redundancies in forestry, mining, television, railways, freezing works and telecommunications. Despite that evidence, journalists used this well-rehearsed government mantra as a riposte against critics of immigration. If they persist, then their opposition is construed as racially motivated since over 50 percent of migrants are visibly Asian.

Opposition from the Greens:
Keith Locke "Anti-immigration sentiment has no place in the Green party
Chloe Swarbrick in response to Winston Peters on The Nation cited "xenophobia and racism"
David Cormack "you don't do what the public wants: you do what's right and the two don't necessarily mesh up"

The Green Party idea is that immigration just moves people around the planet. They hold great hope in an influencing ability over cultural difference. The Greens have cheer -lead the New New Zealand.

Portugal is bucking the trend of populism.

Eric Kaufmann thinks it is simply a matter of a tiny Muslim share as their immigrants come from former colonies. But also they have only recently become a democracy. However it all seems similar to this country:

An unregulated boom in property and tourism in Lisbon and Porto may have contributed to positive growth and unemployment figures, but it has benefited tour operators, property speculators, and estate agents, rather than locals.

Jens Meder said...

Geoff Fisher - if there "is little point in advising them (politicians) of a rational course of action" - then how can they - and the public - even know about what you have in mind ?

So please let us know about it so its rationality can be examined on this wonderfully open minded blog of Chris.

E.g. in our current situation, how could you substantially accelerate house construction without borrowing and saving (or expropriating?) more capital for it, and possibly be prepared to import more labour for jobs no natives are available ?

And Unknown - don't you think that if our present Social Democratic Labour govt. became more Red, it will lose more support than gain ?

Shane McDowall said...


Oh those poor white employers, they are being persecuted by the evil ERA.

And here was me thinking that workers were getting shafted by the casualisation of the workforce and cat piss wages.

Of course rich white employers like desperate workers from the Third World. They will take anything for any wage.

A close relative was offered 10's of thousands of dollars to "employ" a person from a certain sub-continent.

Maybe if rich white employers offered wages and conditions that enable their employees to pay their exorbitant rents AND eat properly they would get local workers.

If your business model is based on cat piss wages and effectively zero hour contracts, then you might want to question your ethics.

If you like Third World wages and conditions, might I suggest that you move to the Third World.

Wayne Mapp said...

New Zealand has one of the highest minimum wages in the world. Qualified tradespeople typically earn $70,000 within five years of getting their certificate. Teachers who simply go to the top of the scale get over $80,000. Same as nurses and police officers. These are not third world wages, or “cats piss” wages.
Just about every family has two or more cars, often quite new.
There is simply no truth that people were better off in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I was born in 1952. From what I recall of the 1960’s is that my extended family, mostly in trades and in factories, had pretty hard lives. There were no luxuries for anyone. The one family car was typically 20 years old and broke down all the time.
They usually owned their own small houses (3 bedrooms, one bathroom,100 meters in size). My younger relatives are buying their first homes in their 30’s. They are way better than the homes of the 1950’s. But it is as big a struggle as it was for their parents and grandparents to buy them and they are typically buying them later in life.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Brendon
I agree that drug abuse is a major social problem in New Zealand. To bring in "drug free" migrant workers is really just to ignore the problem.
So how to address it? Prohibition? A ban on tobacco, alcohol and vaping products along with all the other drugs? But your own New Zealand capitalists are constantly striving to extend the market for these drugs, providing easier access through supermarkets and corner dairies at all times of day and night, seven days a week. At the same time they want to legalize cannabis, to provide new opportunities for profit. (I am guessing that cannabis, along with alcohol, would be one of the drugs that most adversely affects your business operation).
Employee attitudes. So your capitalist friends have consciously created a society in which the majority of the working class have no chance of owning their own home, no permanence or security in their employment, and little hope of being able to provide a for a family while their employers live in palatial mansions and swan around the world on a whim.
And you expect the property-less classes to find a reason to work?
In 45 years I have not touched alcohol, tobacco, cannabis or any other drug, yet I am averse to drug testing because it is a humiliating and unnecessary imposition by capitalists upon the working class.
You know the solution to the "labour shortage" in horticulture, agriculture, rest home care and so on? Let the orchardists pick their own grapes and kiwifruit. Let the dairy farmers milk their own cows.
And if that is deemed to be "impossible" then let them reduce their holdings to a size that makes it possible, and give others the chance to own their own land and pick their own crops.
Pay people a wage which enables them to care for their own old folk.
There is no labour shortage in New Zealand. There is just a shortage of people who are willing to be exploited by a vicious brand of colonial capitalist.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Geoff

For the sake of clarity, drug testing in the work place has become necessary in some industries to protect the safety of individual employees and those they work along side.

sumsuch said...

Where do we go in our easy 1939, before the negative way overcomes us? Ideally, shouting for reality in the international forum and forming a war govt for us. Pushing the positive so the negative can't get a hold. I don't know why we are still so reasonable. With all those talkback audiences and right-wing blogs 4 times the numbers at the NZ blogs. None of the Left pol scis believe in talking. All about surfing the waves they're given. And there are no waves before a tsunami.

Shane McDowall said...


So teachers, Police officers, nurses and tradespeople get reasonable incomes.

Wow, I had no idea.

Not sure how many qualified tradesmen there are in New Zealand, but there are; 60,000 teachers, 12,000 police and 58,000 nurses.

My math is a bit rusty, but that is a total of 130,000.

New Zealand's workforce - including the unemployed - is about 2,600,000.

Most New Zealand workers are not nurses, teachers, tradesmen, or Police officers.

Most New Zealanders are working for cat piss wages.

And you Boomers are the greediest generation in history. The Great Depression/ World War Two generation gave you lot free education and free health care.

How much did the Housing Corporation charge in interest on home mortgages?

Then come 1984 and the Boomers come to power and take away from following generations what the got for free, or at least heavily subsidised.

Not my fault that the best entertainment was The Goons, Aunt Daisy, The Beano and the Howard Morrison Quartet.

Greedy, sanctimonious shits is what your generation is.

Jens Meder said...

Geoff Fischer - so your answer to some of our current problems is for our agriculture to reverse to smaller say 1 to 10 cow self-sufficient peasant farming ?

And re-settle perhaps 70% of our population on farmlets small enough not to make it profitable to invest in expensive machinery ?

But then, how can you expect better or just good wages to be sustainable with less capital(ism) per worker and citizen, beside the standard of health- and elderly care we have got used to ?

Is it not an elementary fact, that without saving and owning capital for investment, there would not even be any jobs available for wages to be earned ?

Nick J said...

Get it right Shane, my generation are self serving avericious future eating sanctimonious non caring fascists, plunderers of wealth and wellbeing for our children and all future generations.

We are also probably old white stale males steeped in patriarchal and racist bigotry.

Oh I forgot to mention our women brought up your generation... we were too busy putting a roof over your heads, food on the table and clothes on your backs. Sorry, really I'm incredibly sorry we had it so easy. I can remember being broke and going without for you, but hey got you back. Wayne and I may agree?

John Hurley said...

Funny how boomers get more blame than politicians, one tune academics and journalists and vested interests.

Clearly, there are serious questions to be asked about New Zealand’s economic policy and how we got into this mess. Why was it not better designed and managed, and more focussed, coordinated and strategic? Did the electorate simply get what it voted for, without realising what was really happening, or have New Zealanders not been well served over the years?
Savings Working Group Report 2011.

John Hurley said...

Wayne Mapp
David Williamson, a senior lecturer in Aucklands AUT School of Hospitality and Tourism:
The reality is that my Phd showed that real hourly wages in the tourism and hospitality sector have fallen 24.5% between 1979 and 2006. So you’re seeing a real drop off in the wages coming into that sector.

David Williamson

Hi John, thanks for your email.  The figures I quote are from my PhD thesis, they were sourced from Stats NZ year books and data over that period. You can access the thesis through the AUT website,  I would send you the link but I am in Croatia and don't have access to my regular computer. I will send you the link when I get home in 4 weeks.  Yes this is a long term trend that not many people in NZ want to talk about, it affects all but the elite workforce and it's a result of the neo- liberal revolution in the 1980s, we have gained considerable economic growth and consumer choice, but the rewards of that growth are increasingly concentrated into the hands of the ones with established capital, wages earners are losing year after year. 
Are they on a different planet?

here's a good idea though

But.... You can rely on... RNZ..... The Spinoff .... NZ OnAir.......TVNZ..... Newshub....?

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Brendon
"Drug testing is necessary" in the workplace if you accept the widespread use of drugs in society at large and just want to protect your own business from the consequences. But they are socially undesirable, make workplace relations more difficult, are often ineffective and don't start to address the massive and profound problems which drugs are causing in our society. In other words workplace drug testing is an admission of defeat in the "war against drugs".
We might actually agree that New Zealand will go ever faster downhill until it solves its drug problem. A drug free workforce would have immediate advantages to capital, but it would also be a formidable agency for progressive social change. I for one would be happy to allow capital the short term benefits, while over the longer term the working class is empowered to take over the governance of society and bring an end to the era of colonial capitalism.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Jens
I don't know what your "current problems" are.
If you can only milk one to ten cows I suspect serious physical disability for which you have my full sympathy.
My advice to capitalists remains the same. Milk your own bloody cows. Pick your own fruit.
Most of the families I know, work with and respect do exactly that.
End of story.

Shane McDowall said...

NicK J

Both of my parents were born before - well before - World War Two.

"Old white stale males steeped in patriarchal and racist bigotry".

If that is how you want to describe yourself Nick, so be it.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora koutou katoa
I should add that I also know small employers who work hard on the shop floor and struggle to cope with all the difficulties that Brendon has listed - absenteeism, intoxication, officious and demanding bureaucrats, large customers constantly trying to screw down prices and so on. Small employers are often squeezed between the monopolistic powers of large corporations and the bloody-mindedness of government departments. This is the case in the forest and timber industries, but no doubt applies in other sectors of the economy. Workers on drugs may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
I also accept that certain businesses can only operate on a large scale. However that does not apply to farming, horticulture, forestry and a host of other activities. New Zealand's economic settings favour large-scale business, but that does not mean that it is the most efficient or practical way of organizing an economy. The increasing predominance of large scale business in New Zealand comes down to a political decision made by the fifth Labour government and endorsed by its successors.

Jens Meder said...

Yes Geoff Fischer - our current problems are those numerous ones identified by you, which you suggest could be alleviated by returning to smaller-scale more self-sufficient peasant farming.

But then some greedy (or progressive?) peasants might increase their herds of cows to 40 - and then persuade - or enable - someone to work for them and earn a wage, for the benefit of both.

And would you want to prevent or prohibit such "kulak" capitalism, as the root of all evil ?

sumsuch said...

We now see it's fascism or demo-cracy. Apart from the Labour Party. God Christ, recruit a talker. Jacinda is a CV. A Labour Party without a fury or fury, isna. I'm crossing over everyone since Norm Kirk. They were righter.

Rationally, despise the last 35 years of Labour. But those pricks had salaries. Unlike we '35 social-democrats, who are right.

Nick J said...

Shane, if your parents are of the same vintage as mine I'd have thought you might have garnered sufficient wisdom to avoid point scoring against whole generations. If you really think that our generation set out to be more avaricious than any other before or since you are sadly mistaken.