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To Little; too late

Updated on November 18, 2014
What about the workers? Indeed!
What about the workers? Indeed!

Its official; the New Zealand Laboured Party is in its death-throes.

After so many battles and much disunity, they have just elected their fourth leader in the last three years. Following Helen Clark’s exit in 2008, the anachronism that is the NZ Laboured Party has looked very laboured indeed. Furthermore it has looked more like a collection of individuals whose common purpose seems lost in the mists of time.

The die was of course set during the 1980s when the party we all associated with employees rather than employers jumped ship pretty comprehensively and began acting like proto-Tories.

Assets were actively run down until the sale of them was a popular policy. Who among us that was politically awake at that time can ever forget the compelling logic from the likes of Richard Prebble for the sale of NZ Rail? Why would we want a business on our books that could ‘lose’ a whole bunch of carriages full of freight up a siding for gawd knows how long?

The trouble with the rhetoric surrounding that particular example was that it was strident and loud and repeated so often that nobody had the good sense to say, “Why don’t we just sack all the dickheads on the board along with the CEO and the Minister and get some competent people in to run it?”

Unfortunately nobody in a position to influence that decision was able to either make themselves heard over the din of all those outraged by the incompetence and thus that particularly promising baby was unceremoniously chucked out with the bath water.

For all David Lange’s qualities as an orator and defender of our borders, he was simply not management material and he allowed the unholy alliance of Prebble and Douglas to shove their hands up his bum and operate him. The logic that prevailed at the time was that the party needed to move closer to the middle ground in order to spend more time warming the treasury benches. Nobody seemed to see any need to keep their point of difference from every National Disgrace party we had ever had before.

In his final term as PM, Lange, through his inept leadership lost a lot of support for his party and they were defeated in the 1990 election and New Zealand would never be the same again.

Bolger swept in to power and his twin gargoyles, Struth Richardson and Jenny Shiphead began the final destruction of the Welfare system and they were joined by a cabinet hell-bent on returning New Zealand to a feudal state.

The Employment Contracts Act 1991 put Kiwi labour laws back into the 19th Century and marked a significant step towards the end of our time as a prosperous country where poverty was something we saw on television in third world countries.

It is important to mention that none of this could have been possible without that gigantic lurch to the right which occurred in the party that used to be ‘for the workers’ and whose prime backers were the Trade Union movement.

I can recall the horror with which I and many others who were trying to influence the behaviour of politicians at that time beheld the TUC as they rolled over on their backs and presented their family jewels to Bolger’s team for ritual excision. I was much younger and somewhat naive in those days and literally could not understand at the time why they did this and had heated arguments with the TUC leader in Auckland because I was so frustrated when he kept saying they could do nothing to stop it. More tellingly I had not asked myself the question as to why they had allowed Lange’s Government to start selling off the family silver so eagerly before that. Had I done so, I might have seen why they did not lift a finger to stop the introduction of the ECA.

History tells us that following the introduction of that Act several senior Union officials found themselves appointed to sweet sinecures paid for by the taxpayer and the Union movement slipped into a state of suspended (in)animation from which it has yet to be revived.

So from 1990 until the present we have had a mighty shift in the positioning of Labour which has left it with a very tiny point of actual difference from its old nemesis. The only thing to really differentiate them from the Tories these days is their association with the Trade Unions – except that they too have made the leap along with their ‘brothers’ and are now equally useless at protecting the rights of the poor and those lacking power.

And that is why the choice of Andrew Little as the new leader of the Labour Party is such a fatal blow for a party already on life support. The fact that he only squeaked in to both Parliament and the position of leader is also a factor that will make his chances of getting unity in the party even more difficult.

Little is part of the old guard, from the days when the TUC ran the Labour Party and sadly for Labour it would seem they still do. Only now instead of being a pious bird of good omen they are simply an albatross around the neck of the party.

Little was elected by them because they still have more power than they are due. I say that because when you ask what the union movement has done for the working man and woman in New Zealand over the last 25 years you are met with a deafening silence. They have done nothing apart from take the worker’s shilling and give nothing back in return. But since the Labour Party still views them as their biggest supporters, they have given them the power to elect a leader that even his colleagues don’t want. How unity is supposed to flow from that, I’m buggered if I know.

I think the Labour Party is really on its last legs now. I fully expect them to be the third highest polling party (at best) in the election of 2017 and I think it is too late for them to stop that demise. However if they have any hope at all of resurrecting themselves in the future they need to ditch the unions.

Working as I do in the employment relations field I know anecdotally that they are not well received by either workers or employers, and what support they do have appears to come more often from employers than workers; so what does that tell you?

Labour should bite the bullet and ditch the unions. Send them away to form their own party and let’s see how much support THEY get. Labour doesn’t seem to realise that the unions have been clinging to THEIR coat-tails for the last few years; not the other way around. If they get the courage to ditch them and return to their original core values of looking after the working people of NZ rather than the captains of industry who are quite capable of helping themselves they just might see an increase in their stocks.

Pretending to change the guard by putting a Union man in charge is way too little and it’s way too late.


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