Written By: - Date published: 8:17 am, October 4th, 2012 - 65 comments
Categories: accountability, business, capitalism, copyright, culture, film, International, jobs, john key, Media, overseas investment, Politics, uncategorized, Unions, us politics - Tags: john key, workers' rights
As Key heads off to the US to promote the NZ film industry, I look back at the Hobbit union-busting dispute and the issues it raised.
Key Issues Raised by the Hobbit Dispute:
NZ is considered to provide an advantage to international movie companies because of its flexible employment relations (i.e. it is not highly unionised).
Due to the intermittent nature of movie production, Employment contracts are often used, and, especially since 1991changes in NZ law, this gives a lot of power to the employers.
Financial investors with no” creative” have come to play a big part in the Hollywood film industry. this industry is increasingly global, involving massive organisations, and focused primarily on profit. In 2010, film corporations, MGM and Warners had major debt problems and needed some big successful blockbusters.
Sir Peter Jackson was a significant player in the dispute due to his seemingly unchallengeable (?) position as an NZ cultural icon, and his reputation for creating jobs and income for Kiwis. However, contrary to his Kiwi-bloke image, he is involved in a global industry, with his, and Weta’s, NZ location being secondary. Jackson’s reputation and international successes give him fairly direct access to the NZ government.
Both the government and Jackson manipulated the dispute and its coverage in the MSM to their advantage. As Nigel Haworth (NZ Journal of Employment Relations, 2011: Vol 36:3) says, the result was:
Thus, analytically, the New Zealand state simultaneously conceded, financially and legislatively, to the global film sector whilst taking the opportunity to further its ER liberalisation and attack the domestic trade union movement.
Contrary to the way it was portrayed in the MSM,(as argued by Haworth) trade unions need to counter the power of globalised capital by developing equivalent international institutions and practices (Haworth). In contrast, the John Key government, placed investment issues ahead of its commitments to global labour standards.
The Hobbit dispute was part of an issue that had been developing since 2009, in terms of negotiations between employers, industry representatives and workers, especially performers, with a fairly weak unions wanting some standard elements included in contracts. The government took the opportunity to try to weaken the NZ union movement, partly through trying to isolate NZ Actors’ Equity and its Aussie partner from international solidarity pledged by equivalent overseas unions.
Sir Peter and the government also exploited some divisions between workers in the industry. They don’t all work within similar conditions. For instance, technicians and other members of a film crew stand to gain some certainty of work. Life is more competitive and precarious for performers. They face competition from performers outside NZ, especially “names” from the US and UK. NZCTU stepped in and tried to support the weak NZ union and help in negotiations, with Helen Kelly playing a leading role.
However, as Haworth concludes:
It is rare indeed to observe such a textbook case of national interests being so comprehensively subordinated to the interests of international capital and its domestic agents.
There has been a strong and sustained, but ultimately superficial, promotion of Sir Peter’s “New Zealandness”. This is often done in association with the marketing of the filming locations of his internationally successful movies, supported by the NZ government. The result is an equally superficial and misleading rebranding of Planet Key’s NZ Inc as Middle Earth.
But where does this leave the production of NZ made, NZ funded films telling NZ stories?
Key’s Latest Hollywood Mission
With Key’s latest mission to Hollywood, who would be the winners and who the losers from any deals he helps to negotiate, and what benefit will it provide to Kiwis? More jobs? Boost the NZ economy? Will it result in improving (or undermining?) the resources and systems that can be used to produce more authentic NZ movies, including ones that could be sold overseas?
Or will it just further increase the Americanisation of New Zealand culture, along with the promotion of international free-market capitalism? Will it mean more Hollywood films, which ultimately siphon off profits to overseas multinationals?
And most importantly, what significance does this have with respect to the TPPA, currently being negotiated secretly? See also, Jane Kelsey on the implications of Key’s trip to Hollywood and the relevance to TPPA. This would involve giving the US government and corporates more control of intellectual property in NZ.
Professor Kelsey predicts “the chilling effect would see the Hobbit saga pale into insignificance. This Prime Minister has shown a penchant for backroom deals. His current trip to the Hollywood studios no simple photo opportunity; it will be a time of intense lobbying by Hollywood to sell us down the river”.
[Update: Link added above to the NZ Journal of Employment Relations, 2011: h/t Draco T Bastard].