- John Edmundson
So the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union has suspended one of its workers because he is standing for parliament on the Act ticket. Shawn Tan, a former Green Party member who became a convert to Act, has been suspended (on full pay) because there is a clause in his contract which prevents his running for parliament without the permission of the EPMU national executive.
The Workers Party has a very clear view about this case and others like it. Regardless of the reactionary trajectory of Shawn Tanâ€™s politics, we believe it is essential that any worker has the right to express his or her political views and to run as a candidate for political office without the interference of an employer. To take any other viewpoint would be to concede additional power to the capitalists over their workers, not only within the workplace but also in their employeesâ€™ lives beyond the workplace.
Act leader Rodney Hide has come galloping to the rescue, claiming that Tan, who is Chinese, is a victim of racism. According to Hide, the EPMU shares with many New Zealanders the view that Asians are “compliant” and a pushover. The unionâ€™s biggest mistake, according to Hide, is misjudging the will of Shawn Tan to fight the good fight on the issue of his right to political expression.
Of course accusations of racism on Hideâ€™s part (not echoed by Tan, it must be said) are absurd. The EPMU was not motivated in its action against Tan by racism. It was motivated by a combination of its corporatist approach - “Itâ€™s in the contract” - and politics.
The union, one of the few still affiliated to the Labour Party, does not want one of its employees standing for a rival party. It was prepared to move against Tan despite such discrimination being against the law. EPMU boss and Labour Party wannabe Andrew Little said as much, declaring that it would be wrong to believe that Tanâ€™s support for an anti-union party was not a factor in their decision.
Hide is, of course, being completely hypocritical in his defence of Tan in this case. Tan has stated that he has used his work computer to do Party work. “Iâ€™m a pretty confident multi-tasker,” he said. “I can be on the phone to a union member and finishing off an email at the same time.” Yet employersâ€™ organisations have declared many times in the past that actions such as using the work internet for non-work related activities are “theft” of time that “belongs” to the employer. Weâ€™ve seen neither Hide nor hair of the Act leader when such statements have been made in the past, and we cannot expect a change of heart from him now.
Of course the hypocrisy is to be found in equal measure within the ranks of the EPMU. Tan has also stated that use of EPMU computer resources and time spent electioneering for their beloved Labour Party is standard practice. “Everyone else does it, but it hasnâ€™t been raised as an issue until now.”
The Electoral Act requires that public servants, such as teachers, take leave if they wish to stand for parliament, but there is no such legal requirement for people such as Shawn Tan. The Workers Party believes that all workers, public servants or otherwise, should be able to run in elections without any constraint, legal or contractual, from their employers.