WHERE HAVE THE UNIONS BEEN during the Covid-19 Pandemic? That the question can even be posed suggests that something is very wrong with the New Zealand labour movement. After all, the answer should be all around us.
At its high-point, under the late, and sorely missed, Helen Kelly, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) liked to present itself as the largest democratic organisation in New Zealand. With upwards of 300,000 affiliated members, that claim was no idle boast. As Kelly proved, the CTU has always possessed the potential to do an enormous amount of good.
So, where has it been? Why hasn’t its current president, Richard Wagstaff, become a household name during the pandemic? Up there with Ashley Bloomfield, Michael Baker, Shaun Hendy and Siouxsie Wiles? Where was the tireless advocacy for essential workers: the people who stood at the check-out counters, drove the trucks and operated the warehouses? When supermarket workers came under attack from the stupid and the selfish, why were they defended with more passion by their bosses, than by the CTU?
Which is not to imply that, down at the coalface, union organisers have not been fighting the good fight for their members. The “sergeants” and “corporals” of the movement have, indeed, been working tirelessly. Some of them have even managed to attract the attention of the news media. Unions like FIRST and Unite – affiliates of the CTU – have stood loyal right through this pandemic: speaking-up and fighting-back; making it very clear to anyone with ears to hear, exactly which side they are on.
But these are the “grunts”, the frontline fighters, the ones who, when the question arises: “Who ya gonna call?”, answer: “Us. You call us. You call your union.” There just aren’t enough hours in the day for these battlers to meet even half the need that’s out there. They certainly don’t have the time or the resources to plan and fund nationwide campaigns; issue media releases; and appear on programmes like AM, Breakfast, Newshub Nation and Q+A. That’s why they send money, collected from thousands of ordinary working people, to the CTU in Wellington.
This is where you might expect to find the “generals” and the “colonels” of the labour movement. The men and women who run the unions’ union. This is where you might expect to hear the national voice of organised labour in New Zealand – speaking up loud and proud for this country’s working-class.
So why haven’t we heard anything remotely like this coming from the CTU? All that money: taken from the pockets of ordinary working men and women so their voices can be heard and their interests defended; what has it been spent on?
This country has been subjected to a veritable blizzard of propaganda from those whose profits have been put at risk. The lobbying of the tourism and hospitality industries was so unrelenting they were gifted their precious Trans-Tasman Bubble – and workers ended up with the Delta variant.
Workers might have expected the CTU to lead the charge for “No Jab. No Job”. Because how else can employees be protected from the enormous risk posed by the stupid and the selfish? The great union motto has always been: “An injury to one is an injury to all!” Not, “The injury of all – by one.” What greater priority could the labour movement have than throwing its entire weight behind the drive for universal inoculation against Covid-19?
Well, according to the veteran political journalist, Richard Harman, the priority of the CTU has been ever-so-slightly different:
“Businesses are caught in a legal tangle if they try to enforce ‘no jab no job’ policies. Up until yesterday, business leaders were convinced the Government would not move on “no jab no job”, in part because it is opposed by the Combined Trade Unions.”
Yep, that’s what he said: “because it is opposed” by the CTU. Opposed!
Rather than defend the health of ordinary working people, the CTU has been slowing the vaccination roll-out by defending the “rights” of the stupid and the selfish. Permitting the injury of all – by anti-vaxxers.
How wonderful that, at last, Jacinda Ardern and her Labour colleagues have finally seen sense and set the “No Jab. No Job” ball rolling. But, how ironic, that they had to do it over the objections of the CTU.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 October 2021.
The Labour Party killed off the union movement when it set a goal to produce "a genuine multi- racial society" rather than a defined group of people whose well-being came first.
That's why they allowed the growth of low value services and house prices to rise.
Unions became absorbed by the progressive movement. The workers meet on Facebook where good chaps advise their fellows not to be racist.
The sickening-state now has people who hover on Facebook: this can be said; that can't be said (like George Bush I make no distinction between the terrorists and the state which harbours them).
As a tour driver I met the Japanese underclass. Those women escaping the Aunts who asked why __ wasn't married and those who wanted the easy going New Zealand life-style (fly-fishing and golf). Life-styles of the Rich and Famous was on TV at my house once and I asked one what he would do if he was rich. He said "this" gesturing at my suburban house and casually went back to his magazine.
Yesterday I visited a couple from Auckland. They moved down here because the husband owned a town house, it was 20 years old but there was (presumably) no sound proofing in the walls. They had made 100 complaints to noise control. Talk about The Geography of Nowhere they lived on a subdivision in the middle of Canterbury farmland (not a meatworks in site) and the houses looked a bit close together.
I see the Vice Chancellor of Auckland University earns(?) $750,000/annum. That is the sort of money Paul Spoonley earns /earned for his Covid response to social cohesion (severing clusters of connection where hate is occurring).
I have nothing but contempt for the Labour Party; their PR; their media or NZ Academia - they who jump to the defense of Te Mare Tau when he declares Ngai Tahu's right to South Island water (they can't see that these idiots are people like other people -realestate agents and all that).
Last time I saw Unite they were on the back of a truck with a megafone and Joe Carolyn was yelling to "globalise the intafada". Unintegrated Muslim women were encouraging the crowd.
Chris you keep intimating that it was the Trans Tasman bubble which introduced the Delta variant to NZ.
My understanding is that it was introduced by a person in MIQ.
Whilst the Trans Tasman bubble was in operation visitors from Australia were not required to spend time in MIQ.
Perhaps someone more knowledgeable than myself could clear this up.
No jab no job. No vaccine passport no access to anywhere. All digital, so now we can do a social credit score just like China. Excellent a brave new world, Huxleys warning come to pass.
Ultimately this is socialist authoritarianism, the good of the masses as dictated by an elite leadership is more important than the sovereign individual.
Once we go down this path freedoms won and surrendered at such a budget price will be hard to win back. All done with Jacindas smile.
Am I scared of Covid? Yes, who wouldn't be? Do I want to live like the Chinese, or the Soviets? I'd rather risk Covid thank you.
The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions COVID-19 vaccination policy, in full, below. A bob each way, standing on the sidelines asking the bosses to be nice. Who made this policy? A few desk jockeys at the top. As I see it,t he CTU has never been worthy of its self described "NZ's biggest democractic organisation.
“We are encouraging employers to do the right thing and support the team of 5 million, including all working New Zealanders, to get fully vaccinated.”
“The union movement is proudly encouraging everyone, who can, to get vaccinated. Vaccinations are a collective action; they work best when we all get them.”
“Employers need to be doing everything they can to support people and make it as easy as possible for employees to get vaccinated. In practical terms this means being able to get vaccinated in paid work time.”
“Providing accurate and clear information in the workplace is another practical thing employers can do. This includes having a zero tolerance approach to misinformation spread with intent to scare and anger people.”
“The goal is that people want to get vaccinated because they understand the benefits to themselves and the people they love. But if people don’t want to get vaccinated then their employer must not be able to force them. If someone is in a role which does require them to be fully vaccinated, then it is our recommendation that the worker be redeployed into a different role within the organisation as negotiated with the individual and their union.”
“Working people on our frontlines have lead the way in getting vaccinated – now it’s time for everyone else to get vaccinated, together we’re strongest,” Wagstaff said.
Surely one of the most significant class errors of the late 20th century was the formation in 1987 of the NZCTU by merging the NZFOL (Federation of Labour) and CSU (Combined State unions)–which of course saw the disestablishment of the NZFOL.
By the mid 70s the FOL had become more of a class left fighting organisation than the CTU has ever shown itself to be. Yes the CTU had the great misfortune to be born in the era of labour market deregulation and National’s 1991 Employment Contracts Act–which head KG Douglas with the support of right wing leaderships in various unions including the PSA and Engineers Unions, infamously declined to organise national stoppage action around.
If there is an ordinary union member out there who knows who Richard Wagstaff is it would be a surprise! Wagstaff comes from farming stock and has a Wellington house and Kapiti coast “Bach” not too far from the PSA holiday flats on Rosetta Rd. Middle class through and through. In contrast the FOL’s Jim Knox would stay on the sofa, in Freemans Bay, of ’51 Waterfront lockout veteran mate Johnny Mitchell when he visited Auckland for May Day celebrations.
Helen Kelly was good, sterling service in the “Hobbit Affair” and various health and safety issues. Education unions fought well against Charter Schools and national standards–the rest though displayed little fight. Union density was decimated in the wake of the ECA and has never fully recovered.
So the point is, a class left fighting central labour organisation is needed again to push and organise the working class, not meekly tail the NZ Labour Party and issue a 100 media releases “welcoming” this or that.
Unions should be unequivocal on vaccination, albeit with resources to sensitively assist the genuinely hesitant. Unions–Unite and First excepted–should also have been up on their hind legs pushing for COVID payments to be made direct to workers via IRD, they should have exposed the bludgers like Fletchers, Carter Holt Harvey and others receiving millions they did not actually need and so on.
John Hurley, I share your contempt for the Labour Party which was once part of my heritage. I utterly despise them for what they have done to this country of basically decent people.
re Simon Cohen.
NZ had a travel bubble with NSW but this was suspended for an initial 8 weeks on 22 July due to the NSW Covid outbreak.The returning New Zealander on August 5 had Covid in MIQ here. Presumably he/she went to Australia while travel was permitted ie. part of the bubble pushed by the business lobby.
Presumably or definitely. My neighbour's son and daughter in law returned to NZ in May this year from Australia after living there for the last 15 years. They had to spend 14 days in MIQ. They were not the source of the outbreak but just as easily could have been. Their opinions on the security of their MIQ stay were enlightening to say the least. They were not surprised to hear that someone from MIQ had infected NZ with Delta.
To give just one example on their second day their family were sharing the exercise yard with a family who were to be released the next day.
I repeat, to blame this outbreak on the travel bubble is problematical.
"No jab no job."
Actually in the US this is right wing authoritarianism, given that the mandate is often instituted by private companies, who have every right to fire someone for any reason or no reason at all. Because right wingers, who in the main are those who aren't being vaccinated, all voted for at will employment. Ah, schadenfreude.
Nick, I don't think you can suggest "socialist authoritarianism", when the demand for restricting the unvaccinated has come from business responding to consumer demand.
The most recent evidence is that overseas insurance companies are refusing to insure the unvaccinated and I presume business insurance will also be dictated by the safety of the Workplace.
I am of the view that government should be leading in the restrictions, but this has largely been left to the market and existing Health and Safety law.
Barron, maybe socialist was 50% inaccurate, as GS points out right wing employer led authoritarianism exists too. Either way authoritarian.
I note in this mornings news that midwifes in Taranaki who are vaccine hesitant are resisting the governments authority as their employer and resigning. This will cripple an already terminally ill system. Im not going to debate their stance, I will only say that this is what happens with the imposition of authority.
Really? Very well researched. Now what is Joe Biden advocating?
It is always interesting to engage with others perception.
Apart from border workers, the Government has only mandated health and education. I would have thought protection of children, the aged, the sick and the disabled is a bare minimum of governmental responsibility, especially as these are groups dependent upon outside contact.
You note the hesitant midwives, I think they are a brilliant, under recognized and under paid group. However, if after receiving the proper medical information they decide against patient safety, they probably are displaying traits not suited for the profession. In the UK, 20% of Covid cases are pregnant women. Fiji saw similar in Covid deaths.
I do not see these measures as authoritarian, indeed I would take the opposite view - forcing those vulnerable and dependent upon state or public contact to interact with the unvaccinated is where I see authoritarianism. This is played out in Republican controlled states.
If educators do not consider child welfare or health professionals patient well-being or aged care workers the life of the elderly, perhaps they need career change.
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