Silence of the Lambs

- Don Franks

Before the election, NZCTU President Helen Kelly had much to say about the two main parties. On April 13th she told the Labour Party Congress:

“Working people have been given the chance to get back on their feet with this government. This is not just because of good policies. It is because we have a Government made up of people who care about workers, who understand the difficulties they face, and who try to make things better.”

Kelly was not ­ quite - absolutely obsequious in her praise of Labour, adding:

“Of course this does not mean that we live in paradise! There is more to do. And workers are really feeling the pinch at the moment with high food prices, rising petrol costs and high rents and mortgage payments.”

Then, even this mild admonition was hastily qualified into nothingness, with the soothing:

“So we need more change and with the continuation of a Labour led government we know that will happen. Labour is the Government with a proven record of change for the better and we need more of it.”

And, after the vision of heaven ­ the warning of hell:

“We have seen National’s industrial relations policy and it is dramatic and will have a major negative impact on working people.”

“National’s plans for industrial relations are the same as in 1991″.

Just before I began writing this, I took a look at the NZ Council of Trade unions website, to see if there was any comment on the election result. Still, after two weeks, not a peep. As we supposedly teeter on the brink of another 1991! It would seem that if National’s plans for industrial relations are really the same as in 1991, so too are the plans of the CTU. Determined inertia. Remember when the top leaders refused to take up calls for a general strike to defeat National’s Employment Contracts Act?

If National is poised for launching a major negative impact on working people, wouldn’t it be the task of union leaders to start rallying and mobilising opposition from day one?

In fact, John Key has already met CTU leaders. Business is going on just as usual; CTU heads know and practice only the narrow strategy of themselves lobbying the government of the day. Mass organising is anathema to them. Even explicit criticism of the former bogey man is quietly put aside; you can’t very comfortably have polite chitchat with someone over morning tea and then call them a bastard in the afternoon. For top union leaders there is really only one difference between Labour and National; Labour offers them more individual career rewards in terms of safe Labour seats. Apart from that, it’s just another day at the office.

Of course, while all this mutual backscratching goes on, workers rights, relative incomes and living standards continue to fall away. The last few years have seen the greatest growth of income inequality in New Zealand’s history. A central problem of unionism today is top union leaders’ servile accommodation to capitalism. When praising Labour in her speech to their congress Kelly said:

“We know that when the party manifestos come out, there will be a stark difference. Labour’s manifesto will contain policies that continue to make New Zealand a good place for all to live in and actually for business to operate in (Labour’s achievements in building successful businesses in this country is also well worth noting)”.

Union leaders know that the idea of a party capable of serving workers and bosses equally is bullshit. When a majority of workers realise the treachery and act on it civilisation will make a huge advance.

5 Responses to Silence of the Lambs

  1. Paul Drake says:

    Hi Don I recon I was right from the begining I likened the CTU to a very holy Swiss Cheese where the moles have knawed right through!! It is time to circle the wagons.


  2. relic says:

    I remember you from the old car industry days Don, when we had combined negotiations etc.
    Great days. I was with the Nissan lot–not the ginger beers though–storeworkers.

    I thought same about the CTU website so I emailed head office. I am concerned that the failed “strategy” of positive engagement with a hostile government that they ran in the 90s would be trotted out again. Not so said two staff members, it was just that elected officials who are allowed to issue press releases were away. I see today (Sun) that the site has been updated slightly.

    Fair enough to let the dust settle for a few days perhaps, but active working class people need to keep on the CTUs case. The working class is not going to talk its way out of things like 90 day no rights at work etc. CTU needs a media profile and to get out there with communities and the unions that are fronting up.

  3. Don Franks says:

    Cheers Relic

    There were some good days in the car plants. Today I’m the only union member on my job and now a ginger beer as well!
    Some of the ginger beers do have a bit of ginger in them thank goodness, as do other folks in bits of wider the union movement. Fortunately the CTU heads are not the whole movement, although they often like to talk as if they are.
    I don’t think the CTU will get a media profile until they stop woffling on about what’s good for the whole economy and take a firm stand on the side of the working class. Why should they get a media profil for saying more or less the same as the bosses?
    When I was in the car plants I was trained by boilermakers leader Con Devitt. He had a media profile because he had attitude. Con used to say that ‘no reasonable employer had anything to fear from the boilermakers union’. ( If an employer adopted a position of even slight disagreement with the boilermakers, then of course that showed the employer wasn’t reasonable). ‘ I thought Con’s approach made eminent sense then, and I wish there was more of it around today.

  4. Daphna says:

    The Nissan strike of 1988 was a great struggle. Were you around for that Relic? That 10 week battle was the first strike I had ever supported and was a great education.

  5. relic says:

    sure was Daphna, I will send you an email shortly.

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