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Labour needs to get beside the workers

Written By: - Date published: 11:00 am, October 8th, 2009 - 37 comments
Categories: labour, wages, workers' rights - Tags:

You know, if you look back to all the elections since 1957, there’s only three you would say the Left lost outright – 1975, 1990, and 2008.

In the Holyoake years, too much of the vote was being wasted on Left-leaning Social Credit, Muldoon lost 1978 and 1981 but got more seats, the country voted overwhelming Labour/Alliance in 1993 but lost because of FPP, and in 1996 was let down by Winston breaking his word.

Even if you just want to look at the last ten years, the bulk of people voted Labour, or left of Labour, three times out of four. There is a natural Left majority in this country, if it can be mobilised.

The Nats think that with their golden boy they can keep the public amused and voting for them as long as he stays around (early 2013 if he gets a second term, earlier if not) but they’re just believing their own hype. Under Key they only managed to win as many votes as they were polling back when Brash was leader. The guy’s ratings as preferred PM is dropping and is actually lower than what National polls.

All Labour has to do is win back about 3% of voters who voted for them the last three times, maybe more, but switched this time, and give another 3%, who are their voters but stayed home last time, a reason to get out and vote.

Job security, decent employment conditions, better wages, that’s the issue. It is an issue where there is a strong distinction between the two parties and one of increasing importance as employers look to put the clamps on workers’ conditions and pay, under the guise of the former recession.

Labour gets it to a degree. They’ve out up private members bills. They fought hard on the minimum wage increase and the Fire at Will law. Darien Fenton’s Redundancy Protection Bill and her petition and postcard campaign is getting the issue talked about at workplaces around the country. But, and this is no disrespect to Darien, the running of these issues shouldn’t be left to backbenchers.

I want to see Phil Goff leading. I want to see him calling on employers to give workers a fair pay increase to at least match the increasing cost of living. Workers aren’t asking for much, just what’s fair. Employers should do their part to help out Kiwi families. The rhetoric writes itself. I don’t see why we can’t see Labour MPs out their supporting workers on pickets lines. There’s no political risk, these are ordinary Kiwis fighting for what’s fair. Fighting for what the Labour Party was founded to fight for. What is National going to do? Argue Kiwi families deserve a lower standard of living?

I understand that a number of Labour MPs (not all of them, which is a shame) have been generous with their own money in supporting workers locked out or threatened with redundancy or striking for fair pay. There’s no reason they can’t match that private commitment with public political action. Work with the unions. Stand for the people the party was built to stand for.

I reckon that there would be a lot of votes in it from those natural Labour voters too.

37 comments on “Labour needs to get beside the workers”

  1. Daveo 1

    I agree with most of your post, but to be fair Labour MPs have been showing up to picket lines and donating to funds to support workers. I’ve seen a few myself.

  2. Man you guys should know how to play around with stats and numbers, just like the Green party.

  3. spot 3

    “….Redundancy Protection Bill……is getting the issue talked about at workplaces around the country……..running of these issues shouldn’t be left to backbenchers”

    …and presumably shouldn’t need to be championed at all by a party of the left in opposition, particularly after 9 years of being able to drive home this sort of change through the legislative agenda.

    Walking the walk and all that.

    • Daveo 3.1

      Presumably shouldn’t have to, no, but it’s Darien Fenton pushing this, and her record on workers’ rights is rock solid.

    • Craig Glen Eden 3.2

      Guess what Spot you cant fix every legislative problem that is ever going to exist in 9 years of Government.
      Nor can you pass legislation for issues that currently don’t exist and you have no idea that they will be an issue in the future.

      While many politicians do let us down you cant expect them to be fortune tellers no matter what side of the house they are on.

      • spot 3.2.1

        Craig – granted, but this is presumably pretty fundamental Labour party ‘bread n butter’ stuff, 9 years is 9 years.

        Apologies if I have misunderstood what is being put forward by Fenton, but I assume the likes of redundancy protection is something you get in place before it’s needed, ie, in advance of recessionary times.

        If it’s a good idea now (and it is), then it always was.

        • Craig Glen Eden

          Fair points Spot but and I have to add a but, remember what Labour took us from industrial legislation wise. The Work place relations Act was a huge move forward for workers rights and better Industrial relations in NZ. The Employments Contracts Act was pretty draconian so Labour clawed a lot back, many have forgotten that.

          Now if Labour had campaigned on the redundancy issue back in 99 and hadn’t made the change in the nine years they were in Government then I would be saying they hadn’t done enough, hadn’t walked the talk.

          While Helen has her faults I don’t think anyone can say she didn’t deliver on what Labour campaigned on. One thing the country is learning is just how good she was unlike Key the holiday clown.

        • Lanthanide

          “If it’s a good idea now (and it is), then it always was.”

          That’s rather laughable. I can make an easy argument here: if an ETS scheme is good for NZ now, then it always was, and we should have had one back in the 1930’s and 40’s, while the rest of the planet was pumping out all the carbon they could, we should have been holding back our emissions to do our part for the eventual global warming. In short – the world changes, and so does policy, and what is ‘good’ or ‘obvious’ and ‘appropriate’ at one point in time is not necessarily so at another.

          Also, can you imagine the whinging coming from the right if they’d tried to do this? Look at what a big fuss they made about the EFA, showers and lightbulbs, things that really don’t affect private businesses all that directly, whereas something like this would, in a big way.

          Just as there is a time and place for appropriate policy, there is also a political environment in which some policies can be put forward, and others can’t. Really it’s quite similar to Labour not even broaching the topic of capital gains tax, whereas now National are hesitantly poking the issue with a stick to see what the public’s reaction is.

          • Maynard J

            Therein lies the problem – if Labour had done this type of thing instead of regulations that included shower heads things might be different. It is hard to predict how, though.

            Perhaps the media would have focused on these bigger issues and National would have failed to gain traction with the Nanny State meme. Remember, though, that an extra weeks’ leave was put through, the minimum wage was increased repeatedly, breaks were legislated for, the ECA was repealed – a whole host of worker friendly legislation was enacted, and yet we still got the Nanny State claims – so it probably would not have made a difference in the sense that you mention in your comment.

            The examples of worker friendly legislation were not picked up by the media as items for outrage. They were shunted into the background and largely forgotten, as George D illustrates below.

            Classic example of good strategy – do not let the opposition gain traction from their wins – sure there might be some howls of outrage from the Right but they are policies that a majority of people would support, so whipping up that outrage was not in National’s interests.

          • Andy B


            There’s a small problem with your comparison and reasoning. What you say is somewhat akin to Hitler was evil, he was German, therefore all Germans are evil.

            Politicians, the public and the media can’t pay attention to everything at once – particularly in a small country like NZ. In the 40s we didn’t have a global climate crisis like we do now, therefore it wasn’t important to consider what we were doing and legislate against/for it. Its the same with redundancy protection – nine years ago our nation was doing well economically and we didn’t have thousands of people losing their jobs every week like we do at the moment (Ok, thats a hyperbolic statement). Therefore, people weren’t focusing on this. Now we have identified a major problem as the lack of redundancy protection – so we change it to provide more protection.

            Governing is a process that we continue to adapt as our environment and circumstances change – we are always trying to improve. If we got it right the first time, we wouldn’t need a parliament now! During Labour’s last tenure, there was no reason for us to really worry about redundancy protection, because it wasn’t a national issue and there were huge shortages of workers as it was. Now its a problem, so lets fix it.

            The Nats shouldn’t vote against it, because it would cause huge problems with their Mr Nice Guy/ Man of the people image. It would look bad. Good for the left though…… (maybe time for the first election promises!)

        • George D

          Craig granted, but this is presumably pretty fundamental Labour party ‘bread n butter’ stuff, 9 years is 9 years.

          You’d presume that. But the post demonstrates that it isn’t.

          • Craig Glen Eden

            Hey George D I didnt make the

            ” granted, but this is presumably pretty fundamental Labour party ‘bread n butter’ stuff, 9 years is 9 years.” Comment. That was Spot!

  4. vidiot 4

    Sorry couldn’t refrain from LOL’ing and re-quoting this gem.

    “You know, if you look back to all the elections since 1957, there’s only three you would say the Left lost outright 1975, 1990, and 2009.

    Is this another attempt to re-write history or a prediction of getting slaughtered in a snap election (should one be held in next 3 months) ?

    • Craig Glen Eden 4.1

      Yup and John Keys super candidate, some woman Lee was going to win for National in the Mt Albert Bye election to. Enjoy your laugh vidiot, your team is not exactly full of star performers and its starting to show.

      Letterman to Audience “what is this bloke here for again “

    • roger nome 4.2

      What circumstances do you see precipitating a snap election? i.e. it usually makes the public lose confidence in the existing Government so there has to be some pretty desperate circumstances.

  5. randal 5

    unfortunately the parliamentary labour party always seems to get away from the base when it is in power. it was extremely noticeab le this time around as all the females became more and more clinically co-dependent and distracted by the consumer orgy going on all a round them. all principles were tossed out the window in favour of wearable art and all sorts of other crap which there is no space to go into here. just as well the key government is flaky and likely to go at the next election but labour must be ready and no more fluffing it.

  6. roger nome 6

    Looks like we could be in for a tsunami:


  7. roger nome 7

    The CTU went “Third-Way” in the early 1990s, as did the Labour Party hierarchy. That obviously includes Goff. Basically we need to get rid of these “free market with a human face” adherents and again make Labour the workers’ party.

    Get rid of Goff and give me Laila Harre!

  8. roger nome 8

    No i haven’t, but she is damn cute ….. oh, and she did well as NDU secretary no?

  9. Adam Jarvis 9

    We keep hearing from the press about how the country has swung to the right. We hear that Labour needs to be modest and respect that the country no longer wants the left’s policies. Bullshit. We were never going to win in 2008, but it had nothing to do with economic policy.

    As everybody has been saying, it’s time to see some leadership from Goff. He’s done great things in the past. Get out there, fire up your party base and we’ll be away laughing next election.

  10. burt 10

    Imagine if all the energy that the Labour party dedicated to protecting Field and holding onto his vote long enough to make sure there wasn’t a by-election was expended on workers rights. Imagine if Labour had done what ACT did with Donna Huata and turfed him immediately because of his abuse of workers rights….

    Hard to claim any high ground on workers rights when you have put the salary of an MP ahead of the people he exploited.

    Much soul searching is needed guys, that and some fresh faces who are not covered in the stench of corruption.

    • r0b 10.1

      Imagine if Labour had done what ACT did with Donna Huata and turfed him immediately

      What version of history are you writing Burt? ACT first became concerned about Huata in 1999 when she apparently threatened to withhold her vote from the then government unless she got $4 million in funding for the Pipi Foundation. Sure enough, she got the funding.

      ACT allowed the trust to be set up (despite legal advice that raised a number of concerns about the original structure) and then ignored all the warning signs (standard procedures for such contracts were not followed) for three years. The Dominion Post blew the whistle in 2002, but it wasn’t until February 2003 that ACT finally took action, and even then they only expelled her from caucus, not from the party itself.

      In short, ACT turned a blind eye for far too long, was slow to act, and in the end probably only acted as they did to limit the damage when the situation became public.

      Much soul searching is needed guys, that and some fresh faces who are not covered in the stench of corruption

      Yes, ACT needs to sort itself out for sure.

    • burt 10.2


      From wiki; Donna Awatere Huata

      In late 2002, the Dominion Post newspaper reported evidence that Awatere Huata had appropriated public money for her own use. The money in question belonged to the Pipi Foundation. Some of this money was alleged to have been spent by Awatere Huata on a secret gastric bypass operation which resulted in a dramatic weight loss that was much commented upon in women’s magazines. She had claimed this weight loss was purely the result of willpower and diet.

      Awatere Huata strongly denied the accusations, but further investigation (much of it conducted by the Dominion Post) provided sufficient grounds for an official enquiry by the Serious Fraud Office. On 11 February, the ACT party expelled her from caucus, although not from the party itself.

      The final report on Awatere Huata’s dealings was not completed until November that year,

      Yes, sounds like ACT did need to sort it’s shit out then as well. They didn’t come back from xmas break to expel a errant colleague immediately.

      Come on rOb, are you going to try and compare that to how Field was handled by Labour, do you live in such a deluded place that you think it is similar?

    • burt 10.3


      Kiwiblog: Field’s guilt and Labour’s shame is a handy time line for the Field debacle.

      Including the snippets like ’18 Jul 06 Clark says Field is not barred from returning to a Ministerial role one day.’ which we can compare to how Huata was handled as well.

  11. DS 11

    >>>there’s only three you would say the Left lost outright 1975, 1990, and 2008.<<<

    1990 is an interesting one. Had it been held under MMP, it would have been a hung parliament – the Nats on 60, Labour + Greens + New Labour on 60 (of course this is Rogernomic-flavoured Labour, but still…).

    • burt 11.1

      What basis do you have for suggesting the Green’s and Labour would be in a position to have a coalition?

  12. John Ryall 12

    Totally agree with your comments Eddie. Now is the time for strong actions by senior Labour figures in standing by those workers who are being attacked across the country by a rising employer militancy fired up by the Goverment’s actions in laying down a wage freeze for state sector workers. Actions speak louder than hundreds of media statements.

  13. Trevor Mallard 13

    Sorry missed this post yesterday but for the record others see it differently. For example I have had written complaints about my public support for workers/unions from Telecom on Chorus, Air New Zealand on Zeal and Talleys on Open Country Cheese.

    I’m told that Tolley and Ryall have been livid at my (and the rest of the Labour Labour teams) support of the NZEI support staff but they haven’t been kind enough to write to complain.

    And next week I will be in the Waikato to meet with the Dairy Workers Exec on the Open Country set of issues. If they want me to spend time on their picket then I’m happy to do that.

    I’m also happy to repeat my comment that Talleys are New Zealand’s worst employer. They have the court record to prove it.

    Carol, Darien and I are working to build set of opportunities for organising around issues – redundancy, contracting and low pay through next year. We are also building policy debate for 2011 so we will be able to move quickly when we get the chance.

    In the interim please keep inviting us to talk and be seen with workers esp where they are in strife.

  14. HitchensFan 14

    One of the key things Labour did when they returned to power was get rid of the terrible (for workers) Employment Contracts Act 1991 and bring in the Employment Relations Act 2000. That is one of a long list of positive changes I recited to people last year when they bleated on about “wanting a change”……not that they listened obviously…..
    (For the record, I am just an ordinary punter, not a Labour Party hack, but I try to think for myself and not be swayed by the MSM).
    I hope Labour does continue its long support of the ordinary worker. That is what will bring them back to power in 2011 in my view.

  15. roger nome 15

    What about centralised collective bargaining Trevor? As you will know, the Employment Contracts Act killed wage growth in New Zealand, primarily because it dismantled the multi-employer bargaining framework. If we want to see decent wage growth again, we need to reintroduce this framework in one form or another (like most developed countries have).


    All these other smaller progressive reforms that are on the table are admirable, as is your continued support for striking and locked-out workers, but until this issue is addressed isn’t Labour looking to meekly plug a bursting Tory dam with cute wee red sticking plasters?

  16. Herodotus 16

    If NZ is not in a position to grow (GDP) how can we pay more in real terms. the pie needs to get bigger and there has to be mechanisms in place to share the success of a growing pie.
    We also need to state what an adequate income that a family can adequately live on. No one wants to put a figure on this from Labour or Nats. Perhaps it is that a real living income is a lot higher than anyone will admit to, and confirm that NZ is a low wage economy that cannot substaine itself?

  17. roger nome 17


    That’s the common retort by the right. The pie has grown substantially in the last 20 years. The workers’ share of it has just gotten continually smaller..

  18. Herodotus 18

    Did you not read the next comment “.. there has to be mechanisms in place to share the success..”
    And also what is a valid income for a family to live on?

  19. roger nome 19


    Not sure – all i know is we need centralised collective bargaining back.

    • Herodotus 19.1

      We aslos need appropiate support for those who cannot help themselves, but at what level.
      Centralised bargining could perputate the extremism for unions/corporate, which both have we wins but no real strurctural movement of a more evan groud. Must note that there are goos employers and supportive unions like all things it is the extreme views that get the press. No one wants to here of well working relationships, as it doesnt sell papersor bring down/stregthen govts.

  20. John Ryall 20

    There is another opportunity to stand beside workers seeking a better deal when 2700 public hospital orderlies, security workers, food service staff and cleaners meet outside their hospitals this Friday for two hours to protest the Government ordering the District Health Boards not to give them a wage increase.

    While Bill English has billed Ministerial Services $20.00 an hour to pay the cleaner for his house he stands firm against hospital cleaners’ attempts to negotiate a rate of just over $15.00 an hour.

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