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A society that works for the few doesn’t work

Written By: - Date published: 11:25 am, April 23rd, 2012 - 76 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Unions - Tags:

This country produces $200 billion of wealth a year. Yet half of adults have incomes less than $29,000 a year. 200,000 kids live in poverty, may in working families. A tiny few – the 1% – pocket the lion’s share. There is no justification. It is bad for society and the economy. Helen Kelly confronts the greed irrational of one rich family, the Talley’s, and how it’s hurting 1,300 poor working families.


How is it that a family-owned company, Talley’s Group, making money from the sea and the land, is able to inflict economic uncertainty on more than 1300 other families? What does it say about the society that makes that lawful?

Is it the ultimate result of colonisation unresolved, that one family, of European origin, is able to determine the economic future of a workforce that is more than 60 per cent Maori and which, for centuries, derived its living from that same sea and land from which the Talley family now make its wealth?

These are tough questions that we will need to answer if we are not to let more than 1300 workers and 5000 children go to the wall as their employer Affco, owned by Talley’s Group, seeks changes to a collective agreement.

In the meatworks, a large part of a worker’s daily pay depends on their team meeting daily tally kill rates, which, in turn, is reliant on the number of people in their team.

Affco wants to have the ultimate ability to determine and change either of these elements – the tally kill number and the team numbers – giving it the ability to reduce workers’ earnings by shifting the goalposts.

It won’t agree to an additional mechanism that protects minimum tally earnings. It has locked most of its unionised workforce out for more than 50 days straight to try to secure this change in the agreement.

Talking to one of these workers at the weekend during a protest in Whanganui, I learned how he had worked for Affco for 30 years, next to his buddy who had been there for 40.

They have shared all life’s ups and downs and believe they may never work together again if the company has its way. They see the union as the only thing that keeps their working life decent and ensures their kids can also work in decent conditions.

Many of these families have exhausted all financial means. They have cashed in their KiwiSavers, frozen their mortgages and got credit card holidays. All these arrangements are coming to an end and they are starting to lose their cars, worry about their houses and realise their retirement will be a poor one.

They can’t understand why the company has to have this “all-or-nothing” approach when it is owned by a family they believe has everything, and doesn’t need any more money. The union movement is fundraising furiously but providing decent support to this number of families is difficult. It is wrong that cleaners and manufacturing workers are donating from their low wages to support these families while the Talley family wants for nothing.

This dispute can only be analysed through a lens other than the dominant market one. A lens where community means something and where there is a bottom line about wealth creation.

That bottom line should include workers having a secure agreement about how their pay is determined. It’s not much to expect.

As the country shows growing outrage at the foreign ownership of land (and I, too, oppose these land sales), a Kiwi family is becoming dominant across the food sector (fish, dairy, agriculture, and meat) which is our primary and most important industry. Yet this lockout and demand to control pay, in my view, disregards the welfare of Affco workers in the most basic of ways.

Unless we have corporate limits, corporate standards and high expectations of those who use the natural resources of the country, then the outlook is grim regardless of who owns the companies or land that creates the wealth.

We need a new social contract. We need modern employer organisations prepared to take a stand for decent work and against companies like Affco. We need stronger labour laws that protect workers like the ones involved in this dispute.

It was revealing last week when those in high places finally expressed outrage at the behaviour of the Port of Auckland – not when it planned to sack everyone, but only when it breached workers’ privacy.

The moral compass of these groups is pointing the wrong way. It needs to be swung around.

The implications for the families and communities of Whanganui, Wairoa, Moerewa, Rangiuru and Horutiu if the Talley family are able to win without account, are generational. All of New Zealand needs to think about the future of work, given the current norm is to accept this type of behaviour as good business.

Locked out families will travel to the Nelson region on May 6 to try to meet the Talley family. They have a feeling the family might appreciate their situation if they talk to them about who they are, and their ambitions for their kids and grandkids.

They are hoping that when families meet face to face, there is still room to build a community of common understanding and respect.

Helen Kelly is president of the Council of Trade Unions.

76 comments on “A society that works for the few doesn’t work ”

  1. ad 1

    I totally agree with this. A whole new social contract.

    Showing the impact on families, again and again, and amplifying that through the media, is the strongest tool left to get positive change.

  2. Gosman 2

    This could be simply resolved if the various worker organisations pooled their capital and created these ‘socially responsible employers’.

    Put your money where YOU want it to be invested and ensure the employees get what you think they deserve.

    • Uturn 2.1

      1) Money is made through the transfer of public resources into private property. There is no “your” money where “you” want it.
      2) Why would a workers collective use capitalism as a model?
      3) Why would they take your advice?
      4) When are you going to learn to understand the concepts you espouse?

    • Deano 2.2

      Gosman: ‘it’s unjust, but I’m happy to leave the economic and legal framework that creates that injustice in place’

      How are then people meant to buy the capital, Gosman, when the top 10% have more combined wealth than the bottom 60%

      • Gosman 2.2.1

        Whine on all you like. I’m just offering an option for dealing with it. Of course you could just expropriate the wealth, (i.e. steal), from those nasty rich people. I wonder if Helen Kelly agree’s with this idea.

        • Draco T Bastard

          The nasty rich people stole it from everyone else in the first place. That’s why it’s expropriation because it’s taking back that which was already stolen.

        • mike e

          goose you mean like Goldman Sachs does that all over the world and gets away with it so we would be better off if we invested in Goldman Sachs as they are at the top of the pile when it comes to stealing every bodies money

  3. coolas 3

    As with the POA dispute, Helen Kelly, well articulates the struggle between Capital and Workers.

    ‘Social contract’ harks back to Hobbes and Locke and all those political reformers who came after them and fought so hard for the rights of Workers.

    Kelly’s telling us the contract is broken. She’s right. PAO and Talleys are blatantly attempting to reduce the rights of Workers in favour of higher dividends to invested Capital, and her example of one family profiting at the expense of thousands of other families is a perfect metaphor for how skewed the ‘social contract’ has become in favour of Capital.

  4. Tiger Mountain 4

    Those locked out families (“A” for pr effort) trying to meet the dirty filthy Talleys will need strong stomachs. Talleys have such disdain for working people and unions but I don’t imagine they will appear up on their hind legs in person unless against the odds the MWU injunction is granted prior.

  5. The trouble is where do you stop. My family has a lot more than others, including the family unit I grew up in, but if you want to redistribute my family’s wealth and disadvantage my family I wouldn’t be having it either.

    • Slap Shot 5.1

      Political philosophers have given various answers to where you stop. Here’s a couple of the more obvious ones to pick from.

      (1) “Redistribute until overall aggregate welfare cannot be maximised any further” (various utilitarians).

      (2) “Reduce inequalities until the worst off person in society would not be worse off under any other distribution of goods” (John Rawls).

      Both of these allow in theory for considerable market freedoms, a considerable degree of inequality and a considerable degree of meritocracy. Both however, make it (although in different ways) so that economic arrangements must work for pretty much everyone and not just the few. Once you start getting away from that, it’s not clear that you are describing a just economic order.

    • Uturn 5.2

      Do you understand English? You admit to what in essence is “wealth” being theft, but you think that if you stop thieving you’ll be disadvantaged under a “new” regime that – I can assure you – does not seek your private property. Exactly what do you think is happening to the people you steal from? Are they being disavantaged in any way, do you think? Or are you born superior, with a get of jail free card? Like Gosman, it’s quite simple to find out what is meant by private and public resources and fill the gap in your world view, but instead you’d rather stay ignorant, hold onto your religion, and claim someone is disadvantaging you.

      Do you honestly believe that capitalism came to dominance without violence, theft and oppression? That millions of people woke up one morning and said, hey, you know what, lets freely and peacefully dissolve thousands of years of organisational structure and let ourselves starve and give up the land we farm in favour of slave conditions in factories; lets reduce our relations between each other to an economic transaction, destroy our families, communities and sideline our women; all for the sake of forwarding the fortunes of a few self agrandised uber-men.

      You aren’t having it? You mean being asked to give up your theft?

    • Colonial Viper 5.3

      but if you want to redistribute my family’s wealth and disadvantage my family I wouldn’t be having it either.

      Except the correct analogy is if YOU wanted to redistribute the wealth of 1300 WORKING FAMILIES to further increase your OWN family’s already high level of wealth.

      In other words, the RICH Talley’s family are not the VICTIMS of this situation, the ORDINARY working families are, you lameass.

  6. mac1 6

    I wonder how much money Talley’s contributed to the campaign chests in the last election and to which parties. The Marlborough Express reported that the local National MP got $5000 but no other candidate got anything. Was this duplicated elsewhere?

    How much political influence is bought in this way?

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    We need a new social contract.

    Yes we do, we need to get rid of the private ownership of land and businesses and replace it with communal ownership (land) and non-ownership (business, cooperative control). Somebody profiting from someone else’s labour needs to be made illegal – it’s already immoral.

    • Are saying it is immoral if I (hypothetically) were a small business owner with 3 staff members to make money from them working the store?

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.1


        • TheContrarian

          Why? I pay them a salary based on the job they are doing and the hours they work. In turn I take a larger share as I pay the payroll tax, rent and electricity to house my shop. Please explain what is immoral about that.

          • Colonial Viper

            Workers should earn 100% of their economic output.

            • TheContrarian

              But what is immoral about providing someone a decent wage based upon the amount of work they are doing for me and the responsibility they are entrusted with?

              • Colonial Viper

                YOU’RE not providing the worker with a wage, the worker is providing YOU with a wage. Get the economic relationship correct for starters, ok.

                • Gosman

                  The good old Marxist canard of the labour theory of value. It goes to the heart of why Marxism never works in practice.

                • DJ

                  @ Viper – You’re an idiot. So Contrarian, who owns this fictitious business, takes a risk with his own money (whether earned or borrowed) and must receive no returns for it? So if the business collapses, the workers simply move on to the next business and the owner is bankrupted. How are we ever going to get people to create jobs?

                  Oh yeah that’s right, we’ll all just work for the government. What a plonker.

                  • crashcart

                    It seems to me that workers take as much if not more risk when they go into the employ of a small buisness owner who puts every thing on the line. the workers have families to feed and mortgages to pay too. If they lose their job it is just as difficult to find work as it is for the guy who’s buisness might fail. You want to know why the owner is less at risk. Because when things take a down turn he starts laying off workers. He is still in buisness. Still earning. The employees are fighting to feed their families and pay the mortgage long before the hard done by buisness owner who aparently is taking on all the risk to start a buisness even needs to cut back on his spending.

                    Open your eyes.

          • mike e

            Incontenaryan Nothing but wouldn’t it be nice if you could expand your business because more people had more money under right wing government less people have more money! Which equals less customers.

            • TheContrarian

              I am not supporting any political ideology, I am wondering how Draco can call it immoral.

              • Colonial Viper

                Your political ideology is amoral.

              • mike e

                Icotenaryan not according to your blog.
                I think he.s saying having that power over someone-else.

                • @Mike e – my blog doesn’t state a political ideology.

                  @Mike e + Viper: I don’t have power over someone else. I need help in my business so I can go out and find someone to fill in where I cannot be, for that I pay them a salary and afford them all the legal rights they are due as an employee. Both parties enter into this voluntarily and a legal, as well as social, contract is formed.
                  Just stating “that’s amoral” does not make it so. What is amoral/immoral about it?

                  • Colonial Viper

                    You are stealing the economic value of their labour and adding nothing except capital and bad management skills – which the workers could provide themselves.

                    Oh fuck explaining it to you, I’m just going to make it happen.

                    • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell

                      Oh fuck explaining it to you, I’m just going to make it happen.

                      You’re going to find a product or service for which consumers consider there to be a need and supply it to them and in the process borrow money, employ people, rent premises and manage inventory? All without taking anything for yourself?

                      Good on you.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      Hey dense dude, of course I’m going to take for myself, I’m going to be a part owner in the enterprise after all, sitting on the Board as a director as well as a worker. “Collective” is short for collectively owned enterprise, ya know?

                      Shit you’re not really that smart are you.

                    • Gosman

                      Go on and do it then CV. Provide the practical evidence for the superiority of your proposed system. Somehow I doubt this will fly but good on you if you do give it a go. Let us know when you have set up your communial ownership business.

                    • DJ

                      He’ll never do it. All mouth ……

          • Draco T Bastard

            It’s not up to you to determine how much to pay them
            They’re the ones paying you
            They’re the ones paying the business’s bills

            Basically, a business needs to be a cooperative where everybody has a say rather than where one person is a dictator.

            • TheContrarian

              It isn’t up to me? Why not? Who says I am dictator?
              I am asking for assistance and those who provide the assistance will be duly compensated using my own moral compass which is to be fair, legal, and provide all the necessary adequate working conditions of which I pay for in order to facilitate my workers needs.
              There is nothing dictatorial about that.
              Yes they are paying me with their time and assistance to which we have agreed will be compensated through money. We have signed and created a social and physical contract.

              If someone pays me and three others to help painting a house does that mean I also have a right to dictate the colour and when it needs to be finished by?

              • higherstandard

                Nice pigeon chess.

              • RedLogix

                Someone’s missed the point utterly. The painting business can quite readily be an employee owned and managed cooperative … while at the same time meeting customers’ requirements around colour and completion.

                • No, you have missed the point. “The painting business can quite readily be an employee owned and managed cooperative” yes, but someone still has to hire you meaning you still have someone who is your boss and pays you.

                  • crashcart

                    Are you actually claiming that when you walk into KFC and order some chiken you become the cooks employer? Tell you what head on down and tell them that you want them to start cooking steak cause Dammit your the boss and see how far that gets you.

                    • Are you actually claiming that me purchasing KFC is somehow comparable to hiring a team to build a house for a fee after contract is drawn up to complete the work under the terms and conditions of both parties? I can fire my builders if I need to. I have contracted them by way of agreement. I am their employer. That isn’t comparable to purchasing fast food dude.

                  • RedLogix

                    An apology will do Contrarian….

                    • crashcart

                      apparently when it suits him he can act as though the employee/employer relationship and the customer/employee relationship are the same. In the very post I replied to he said that the person hiring painters to paint his house is the employer as opposed to the customer. Then when I pointed out the difference between the two he chose to act like he had said the painter boss ass opposed to the person wanting the painting done.

                      Yes if he is unhappy with the workers who his contractor hired to do the painting he can fire the contractor and hire a new one. That doesn’t mean he fired the workers. They still work for the contractor. Just as I can choose not to pay KFC for dinner tonight. That doesn’t mean I fired the guy behind the counter. I am just giving my money to someone else to do it.

                      Me Customer, KFC employer. you Customer, Painting contractor Employer.

                      Do you get the relationship now Mr Contrarian.

                  • McFlock

                    I am asking for assistance and those who provide the assistance will be duly compensated using my own moral compass which is to be fair, legal, and provide all the necessary adequate working conditions of which I pay for in order to facilitate my workers needs.

                    The issue is that you supply a “take it or leave it” offer based solely on your own “moral compass”. There are 150k unemployed, so your employees need you more than you need them. This shifts the power balance in your favour – to a certain extent yes you can “dictate” conditions.
                    A cooperative, on the other hand, judges what counts as “duly compensated” using the collective “moral compass” of the employees themselves. Everyone has an equal vote. There is still the necessity for employment, but the balance is shifted back towards the employees. There are different roles within the cooperative (quality managers are still needed), but the power resides in the total membership of the cooperative, rather than simply being the product of the money you as an individual have in your bank account.

                    • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell

                      I geddit. Collectives are brilliantly brilliant. Go fucking start one.

                    • McFlock

                      Still a bit of “looking out for me, fuck everyone else”. I’d much rather work towards an employment environment where the dictatorial power of the boss was better balanced by legislated and enforced rights for all workers.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      Workers will have to follow through on their responsibilities as well. Which is why collectives are brilliant – workers will have the opportunity to do that as they will be the owners/managers too.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      I’d much rather work towards an employment environment where the dictatorial power of the boss was better balanced by legislated and enforced rights for all workers.

                      Only legislation needed:

                      1.) All businesses with more than one person in them are cooperatives.
                      2.) No one may have ownership in a business. They are self-owned and controlled by the workers. Each worker has equal say and responsibility in the running of the business.

                      trying to maintain the capitalist ownership model will just result in the system continuing to fail to work.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    but someone still has to hire you meaning you still have someone who is your boss and pays you.

                    The customer hires the cooperative but isn’t the boss. The people doing the work are a cooperative and so there isn’t a boss there either.

                    Oh, look at that, no fucken bludging bosses.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      This appears to be where you and I differ – I still think there will be a need for management leadership, but regularly elected from the general workers.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      I’ve said time and time again that I think administration is vital. The administration would be part of the workers. What we don’t need is managers, bosses and owners – the dictatorial classes.

                    • McFlock

                      I guess that makes me slightly farther right wing than you, CV 🙂 – I don’t have a problem with professional managers employed long term (with real performance reviews, of course – that should surprise a few of our current “leaders”). I just don’t see why they should get twenty times the salary of the cleaners.

                • higherstandard

                  Yes it can, but why is the contrarian’s example immoral and why is the owner operator necessarily a ‘dictator’.

                  This is almost as batty as DTB’s we can make all the pharmaceuticals, vaccines, medical devices etc we need in NZ.

                • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell

                  For fuck’s sake. No-one is stopping you starting a collective. It’s not illegal. Go and do it.

                  You won’t find anyone complaining about it.

                  • Colonial Viper

                    Best to acquire the capitalists assets first.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    Starting cooperatives is only one step, we also need to get rid of capitalism.

                    • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell

                      Well get on with step one. No-one is stopping you.

                    • Gosman

                      I think they much prefer to sit on the internet and bi#ch about the evils of capitalism rather than setting up an alternative, which is a little too much like hard work for them I suspect.

            • insider

              You’d think that if thats the way things ‘ought’ to be, then that model would continuously float to the top of the economic pile. But it doesn’t. Isn’t that possibly a clue that it is not the bes tmodel?

              • vto

                Oh, you mean float to the top like bankers and the free-market financial tools that led directly to the global financial meltdown floated to the top? Or do you mean float to the top like the dark ages did? Or do you mean float to the top like communism did in many countries?

                And anyway, you had better first describe the substrate in which this floating is meant to take place – is it like oil and water or water and cork or sand and boulders? Or is it just plain garden variety hot air?

                • DJ

                  What is your honest opinion of the large salaries that union leaders are apparently getting? Is this fair? Should the money not remian in the ownership of the contributors? Why is it that they are allowed to draw large salaries?

              • McFlock

                Darwinian capitalism is survival of the most fit for the corrosive environment, not survival of the model that is best for all concerned.
                Nature is nature – but humans have the power to choose a better economic system, because economics are a solely human construct.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Isn’t that possibly a clue that it is not the bes tmodel?

                Not when it’s been actively prevented. We had guilds (IMO, primitive cooperatives) – until they were outlawed at the behest of the capitalists.

                Think about it. Builders in Auckland are contractors often working for labour hire firms. Over this recession the amount paid for builders has dropped and many have lost homes due to this (they’ve been working, just not getting paid enough). Now, if all the building contractors got together as a cooperative and ensured that pay was kept up so that they could all look after themselves even when work was not in abundance (Construction work tends to be piecemeal and yet builders aren’t allowed to charge enough to cover downtime – instead we end up losing builders (just because the work isn’t there doesn’t mean that the people aren’t nor that they won’t be needed again)) they’d all be better off (and so would we as we wouldn’t be losing skills). Unfortunately, that’s illegal.

  8. Carol 8

    Helen Kelly really is sharp and on to it. I’m looking forward to seeing her on the first broadcast of The Union Report tonight.


    Triangle TV is proud to announce “The Union Report”, a new current affairs show that looks at the news week through the lens of industrial relations.

    Hosted by blogger and controversial broadcaster Martyn Bradbury, the show will bring together dispute insiders, Union leaders and political commentators and politicians to provide an alternative analysis to traditional mainstream media coverage.

    Council of Trade Union President Helen Kelly, commentators Chris Trotter and Mike Williams will be joined by a changing panel of guests from EPMU, PSA, NZNO, Unite, First Union, SFWU, MUNZ, PPTA and CTU affiliates to discuss the weeks industrial activity from the worker’s perspective
    The Union Report will play 8pm Monday on Triangle TV and simulcast on scoop.co.nz. It will also be loaded onto YouTube and available on Facebook and twitter.

    TONIGHT: CTU President Helen Kelly and MUNZ President Garry Parsloe.

    I hope this show lives up to its promise, but will be watching with interest, given the lack of good coverage of industrial relations in the MSM.

  9. chaz 9

    Lies damnable lies. The Median income in Nz is 42000. Althought I admit it does read a lot better to include the retired and beneficiaries to create your bullshit number. You must be one of those blokes that ‘worked out’ that the poor old wharfies weren’t really on 91k; right? ( yeah right).

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Hey chaz, good of you to make beneficiaries, the unemployed, youth workers, retired, part timers etc. invisible in your statistics. You know, like they are not real NZers and do not count by your standards.

      I know, here is a good idea, why don’t you also exclude everyone earning less than $100K pa from your statistics while you are at?

      That way, we’ll also have closed the wage gap with Australia and be waaaaay ahead of them.

    • felix 9.2

      Why would you exclude beneficiaries from the stats? Don’t they have to live on their incomes?

      In your version of the truth the median income goes up as unemployment goes up!

  10. John72 10

    McFlock seems to have the most realistic grasp. No manager is perfect and their greed is creating history. However, acting in the same manner as the Greedy Rich only endorses their actions. Every job needs a foreman but some people do not want to accept responsibility so we are stuck with managers.
    50 years ago the NZ dollar was US$1.2. Now we are selling our assets. Will someone, not a politician, explain what has happened to the economy that created the assets and what will happen when we run out of assets. How long before we are back to a one-car-family. A vechicle that is washed every week and kept in the garage.
    When defining the Affordable Standard Of Living, where do we draw the line. Our politicians are not setting an example,a role model. Europe, USA, Asia are all nervous. Past disasters have all started like an ordinary day. The stars fading, sun rising in the East. Suddenly something unusual happens.
    The Titanic, the Wahinie in Wellington, ANZ on Mt. Erabus, Earthquakes in Japan, S.E. Asia, New Zealand. Pearl Harbour,”9/11″ in USA. They all started as an ordinary day.
    Our current standard of living is far better than what we had 50 years ago but can we afford it? All bad news or forecasts are unpopular, however we have to face it. Today will not just keep on repeating itself. What is happening to our economy? It will change.
    Refer to The Road Less Travelled by M.Scott Peck. A Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. In print for 35 years. Opening paragraph, 3 words. “Life is Dificult”.
    So many people think that the world owes them a living. They do not have to make an effort, but each day we create history.The world is always changing. Look at history.

    • Colonial Viper 10.1

      Only the hardy – physically and psychologically – are going to make it. Looking at the “consumers” in the local mall today…most of them would fall apart if told that the supermarkets were going to close for a week.

      Our current standard of living is far better than what we had 50 years ago but can we afford it?

      No we cannot. And it is the top 20%, led by the top 0.1% which we particularly cannot afford.

      Improvement in our civilisation has got to come from improvement in human relationships and in qualitative improvement in our lives – not from quantitative “economic growth”.

  11. John72 11

    Take an example. 50 years ago NZ developed Hydro Power lakes throughout the South Island and a High Tension electricity system to supply the country. Then sat back and admired it. This Winter, when there are power cuts, do not complain about the shortage, be grateful for what you have got.
    Who had the vision to do develop what we have? Who owned it 40 years ago? What are we doing now?

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