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Labour’s labours lost

Written By: - Date published: 5:26 am, June 26th, 2009 - 69 comments
Categories: employment, labour, national/act government, unemployment - Tags:

I remember just over a year ago, Helen Clark announcing that the number of people on the unemployment benefit had fallen below 18,000 for the first time in 30 years. The roomful of Labour supporters erupted into applause.

Contrary to the crap you hear from righties, Labour top priority is making sure everyone who wants one can get a decent job on decent pay. And they were amazingly successful in achieving it. There was palpable pride among the Labour supporters that, although it was far from perfect, under Labour unemployment had been kept below 4% for four years, the minimum wage had gone up every year under Labour, wages and conditions were so much better than a decade before, and so few people needed the safety net of the dole.

How quickly things change. Here’s dole numbers as they stand today and the (conservative) estimates from Paula Bennett (thanks Marty):

Unemployment benefit

Since June last year, the numbers have nearly tripled back to where they were in 2005. By 2011, we’ll be back to where we were in 2003.

Five years of work lost.

And it doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, there’s a recession on but if we had a government that was putting jobs first tens of thousands of jobs could be saved. If we had a government that invested in jobs rather than giving big tax cuts to the rich, we wouldn’t be looking at 70,000 more people out of work and on the dole.

69 comments on “Labour’s labours lost ”

  1. Ari 1

    Yep, if there’s one thing Labour can be counted on, it’s to do whatever they can to reduce unemployment.

  2. So Bored 2

    Nice graph Eddie, bit of an eye opener on the level of unemployment in 1999 after 15 years of Dodgernomics and Ruthenasia, didnt they do well whilst the rest of the world was booming? Even the predicitions for the current (D)recession dont come close to what was achieved then. Labour had every reason to be please, even if times were comparatively better than today.

    The depressing bit for those out of work is the re emergence of Dodgy Roger wagging the dog that is National, and the presence of die hard fundamentalist marketeers in their midst. They will likely blame the poor for lack of skills holding back their shining enterprises. Its amazing how their totally discredited experiment still gets credit, its very similar to listening to marxists calling for a return to the soviet.

  3. Ianmac 3

    I am cofused. Then the Government claims credit for unemployment drop. Now Government says they cannot do anything to save jobs. Huh? I do remember Helen saying during the Election, “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs”

  4. jason 4

    It astounds me how enamoured with Key, the papers keep telling us, people are. Personally I cringe whenever I hear him speak. He and his government are absolutely devoid of ideas.

    I look back and see the sweeping changes his lot make and try to make sense of why any caring person would implement such policies. Surely he has some genuine beliefs? Morals maybe? Compassion? Economics is not a way of life. Economics does not sustain mankinds moral fibre. The woes of the world cannot be fixed by an economic ideology.

  5. craig 5

    So how much of that rise is due to National, and how much is the recession??

    Unemployment is supposed to hit 10% in the US soon, so could ask the same thing about Obama’s policies…

    • Zetetic 5.1

      No-one’s saying the Tories caused the unemployment. They’ve got a responsibly to minimise it.

      • Anita 5.1.1

        I’m happy to blame National directly for much of the Wellington unemployment right now, they’re exiting public servants and the work is just not getting done.

    • Anita 5.2

      So how much of that rise is due to National, and how much is the recession??

      How can we tell them apart? National is busy exiting public servants, but other than that everything else is either the recession or National’s failure to address job security during the recession depending on which way you spin.

  6. Stinkmeaner II 6

    God you people are pathetic!

    Is your inference that labour, regardless of economic conditions would have always been able to achieve the low unemployment rate you have put in that pretty graph and that national should now be able to do the same?

    What are these jobs the government should be creating? who will get them? will these people be skilled? what regions will get them?

    Its all very well suggesting the govt isnt doing enough, but what prey, tell does labour, or you, intend to do to solve the issue?

    My guess it would be as good as your site is. Always having to be patched over, not trustworthy and written by absolute morons – think Zetetic

    • Zetetic 6.1

      I’m not the government. Neither is Labour. It’s National’s job to minimise unemployment. They could start by taking up the Greens’ Green New Deal.

      • Stinkmeaner II 6.1.1

        Spoken like a true moron. You would rather labour was in govt though right, dont lie the answer is yes.

        So the best way to achieve that is for labour to come up with ideas of its own.

        Most people who read this site frequently, of any political persuasion, who post on this site, perhaps even Eddie and Lynn, know that you are an embarrassment to your cause. Often you write rambling, near incoherent garbage that insights people to arms, but does nothing to add meaningful dialogue to the discussion.

        I dont care enough about politics to worry about you, for the most part the people on that post on this site make valid points. Eddie was a little off with todays post, but that’s a matter for debate. You are just are puerile as the statements i often make and they are there as a mocking counter to your belligerence.

        What alleviates my concerns about you, is the knowledge that you will continue to be marginalised by those who make decisions until you settle down and start being constructive. As i dont see that happening, i expect to see more of your nonsense posted here. Maybe the lead writers will have a long think about your contribution to their efforts.

        • Zetetic

          I pointed you to the Green New Deal. You can’t argue against it because you’re too slow. At least you have the sense not to try.

          So you resort to a rant. A bad one too because it shows you are ignorant, which nullifies any cutting power it might otherwise have had (which was little). You sound like you’re close to tears.

          • Jared

            I actually had a look at the Greens New Deal and tbh most of the purported “jobs that would be saved” seem to be grossly overstated. Like the assumption that because resource consent rates are down by half that building that there is somehow half the building workforce out of work, and that the Greens New Deal for State Housing can some how save these jobs? Who said they were gone to start with? Also, the School Upgrades, from Coal Boilers for what, $34k per school? I find it hard to believe considering the maintenance tenders for schools I have seen lately, your basic lift required under the building code is a minimum of a 100k let alone a boiler. The Greens New Deal assumes that the number of jobs “saved” are actually out of work at the time, unlikely.

      • So Bored 6.1.2

        Stinkmeaner…just love the name, its so evocative of rotten whale blubber. Zet, this governments core ideology is hands off plus judicious pruning of “cost”, minimising unemployment doesnt even come into their lexicon of terms. Face it, they dont love “us”, we are expendable (if rational) economic units.

        • Stinkmeaner II

          Zetetic – The greens are in bed with National, remember the insulation package in the budget? I ignored your talk of the green new deal because you are a labour supporter and as they are the natural party of opposition, they need to come up with new ideas. Not the greens, who are forging a separate identity; rather amusingly at the expense of labour.

          So bored -Yep you are expendable for sure.

          • Zetetic

            I’m a RAM supporter.

            National’s the government, they’ve got to govern. You wanted options. You got one – the green new deal. ‘What would Labour do?’ is a hypothetical distraction. The question is ‘what will the government do?’

          • craig

            The government will do whatever it wants to do, and if you don’t like it I suggest you vote for RAM again at the next election. Given their influence over the last 100 years on government policy they’re clearly a good place to stack your bets 🙂

          • So Bored

            Hi Stinky,

            Expendible yes, I nearly euphenised myself after last nights test match. and I am not feeling the love from the right. You definitely have the whiff of whale blubber.

    • Anita 6.2

      Stinkmeaner II,

      A Labour government would have different priorities from a National one. One of the differences is the focus on employment.

      Whether that is good, bad or indifferent is debatable, but I would’ve thought we could all be confident that a Labour led 2009 New Zealand would have fewer unemployed than we currently have. Don’t you agree?

      • Stinkmeaner II 6.2.1

        No i do not agree that we would have fewer unemployment. What would labour have done differently? Im fairly sure that National want more people in jobs, as that will stimulate the economy, hence it will bring in more tax and bill will be happy.

        I believe that Nationals priority is the economy and getting that moving, when that happens unemployment will drop. However if you look at how that historically works, employers lay off staff after the recession has hit, sometime in the second and third quarter. It then takes the economy to be showing clear signs of recovery before employers with rehire staff as they start to expand again. Perhaps as long as a year after the technical recession has ended.

        If you can explain how labour would have stopped the rot then i am all ears.

        • Anita

          I’m neither Labour nor a labour market specialist, so this is wild guesswork 🙂

          I would’ve thought that Labour would have provided more direct financial incentive to employers to maintain existing staffing levels, and that it would have used public sector projects to sustain regional employment. They might also have boosted funding to training providers to pull people off the dole and into second chance, trade and tertiary education, tho I’m not so sure. Now you might disagree with all three approaches as they look like direct state meddling in the economy, but they’re Labour flavoured actions.

          BTW I think you have National’s logic the wrong way wrong; I think they believe that stimulating the economy will increase employment (not the other way round), you can see that logic in the kinds of projects they are supporting: money into capital not money into wages.

          The point is not particularly what Labour and National would do differently, it’s the different way they view the economy. Their different behaviours are predictable because their ideologies are different. Their responses to a recession are different, the outcomes of their different responses are predictably different.

  7. Ianmac 7

    Pardon me but why ask “But what would Labour do?” Seems to be the cry from the right. Shouldn’t the elected Govt have the answers? Wasn’t that why the masses elected them because they had the answers and shouldn’t the masses have an expectation that there would be action? Perhaps Key/English still beieve in the “trickle down theory” ?

    • craig 7.1

      “Shouldn’t the elected Govt have the answers? Wasn’t that why the masses elected them because they had the answers and shouldn’t the masses have an expectation that there would be action?”

      Nope, they elected them because even though they don’t have any answers, most people still think they’re better than Labour.

      Do nothing about the recession versus Labour, and the people still chose do nothing. Shows you how popular Labour are huh?

    • Swampy 7.2

      We elected them because Helen was past her use by date, mostly. The prospect of Labour winning a fourth term in office was not a very inspiring future. Any government that has been in power that long deserves to lose.

      • MartyG 7.2.1

        A party deserves to lose merely for winning three times in a row?

        • Jared

          Yet you are assuming Labour deserved to win merely because of their previous 3 terms? Discontent surrounding their accountability and integrity plagued their final term and a transition to the opposition has the potential to refresh the Labour Party and give it a new direction considering the change in political, social and economic landscape. You have to admit Labour had been getting too comfortable in their position whether or not you are a Labour supporter. New Zealand needed a change.

  8. craig 8

    Does Labour support the Green New Deal, and if not what would they do any differently?

    Realistically the Greens will never be in power, so the people of NZ have a choice between the cycleway and… What’s Labour’s alternative? Nothing?

    Oh and I think you’ll find not many people have a lot of sympathy for bureaucrats in Wellington losing their jobs…

    • So Bored 8.1

      “”Realistically the Greens will never be in power…”, a word of caution, a small dark fellow sat in an island prison cell dreaming for a while of a better country, another darkish lad took constant beatings protesting about salt etc. Some other gents formed a political party after a mining lock out. Their ideas outlasted those which said it would never happen.

      • craig 8.1.1

        Yeah the Greens are exactly the same as the dark guy in the prison cell. Good analogy.

        Only the two main parties have a shot at power – as public opinion changes so will they. If the whole country suddenly becomes greener, so will National and Labour. If one of them screw up big time another party might take their place, but it will only be the Greens if they move further into the center, in which case I’d argue they won’t really be the Greens any more.

        • Zetetic

          Irrelevant. National could pick up the Green New Deal anyway.

          • craig

            Why would they? Very few of the people who voted for them support it.

            If people had wanted a Green New Deal they would have voted for the Greens.

          • Zetetic

            They could do it if they cared about saving jobs. Which is the topic we are talking about here. We’re not discussing parties’ electoral success. We’re talking about unemployment in the here and now.

          • craig

            “We’re talking about unemployment in the here and now.”

            Oh sorry, that must be why you have that graph showing what unemployment was like in 1999!

            If you just care about the here and now, why is it important that unemployment now is higher than it was when Labour was in power?

            Surely any unemployment is a bad thing and previous figures are irrelevant?

          • Zetetic

            The graph shows how rapidly unemployment is rising and what a dramatic turn around that is. Which strengthens the case for the government doing something. Rather than just sitting on their fat tory arses.

            • Jared

              Bullshit. You are underestimating the effect of a recession and assuming that because National came to power at the same time as the recession took hold that unemployment is down to Nationals mismanagement? So how do you explain Obamas “success”? Even his bankrupting economic stimulus package has not stemmed unemployment in the US, which is still increasing at an alarming rate. So I ask you this, considering other countries who have been more proactive in their economic stimulus packages are still experiencing increasing unemployment rates, can you still with a straight face blame John Key and the National Party for our unemployment rates?

          • burt


            The graph is not showing prior 1999. Why is that?

            It was falling for a few years under National – oh yes – the failed policies of the 90’s (reduced govt spending, low inflation, productivity focus, low interest rates) were slowly reversed by Labour. Bugger it eh, didn’t the 90’s deliver a stonker of a decade for Labour, pity Labour handed National a basket case – again.

          • MartyG

            I made the graph. It doesn’t go back further because that’s as far back as the MSD releases went.

          • Anita

            Here’s a handy graph from the Reserve Bank showing both unemployment and employment (as measured by the HLFS carried out by Stats) back to 1990.

            A link to the data back to the 1970s is available from here.

          • craig

            “Rather than just sitting on their fat tory arses.”

            Haha as opposed to their skinny RAMmed arses?

          • Anita

            Also handily MSD’s 2008 social report has some graphs of unemployment back to 1986 which include an interesting ethnicity breakdown as well as gender and age group.

            NB they are using December figures to avoid the seasonal fluctuations which plague the HLFS.

        • burt

          I think Craig is substantially right here. The sheeple mentality of giving two ticks to major parties either needs to change dramatically, which would spell the end of the two major party duopoly, or the minor parties are permanently relegated to supporting the major party de jour or opposing it. No more no less.

          • Ari

            I think you miss the point. If the Greens drag the older parties towards our policies, that’s success for us. We’re about achieving social change, not forming a government.

          • craig

            Well I think one day people will look back on the fact we ate meat with disgust, but I’m not sure that’ll be because of the Greens any more than the government who eventually votes the law in. The Greens only pick up issues when they reach a reasonable level of popularity.

          • Ari

            Yeah, that’s totally why we’re for ending the prison-industrial complex and a harm-minimisation regime for cannabis. lol. 😛

            ETA: Sue also amended S59 of the crimes act because it would be so popular. True story.

          • craig

            “Yeah, that’s totally why we’re for ending the prison-industrial complex and a harm-minimisation regime for cannabis. lol.”

            Do you know how popular legalising cannabis would be?

            I’m sure like half of people under 30 support it – not exactly a fringe issue?!

            And I wasn’t talking National /Labour popularity levels anyway was I – the Greens pick up lots of issues around their polling – maybe 5, 10, 15% support. Which is definitely popular if you compare it with the support for parties like RAM!

            • Ari

              The Greens don’t do things because we think they’re popular. If you think that you do not know the party. The general philosophy is to pick what we think is right and fight for it- preferably by making it popular.

  9. burt 9

    Look at that falling unemployment graph, it took almost nine years for Labour to reverse the failed policies of the 90’s – but they did.

  10. Daveski 10

    This post simply undermines the credibility of the site. To maintain as the post does that the increase in unemployment is due to the Nat govt simply beggars belief.

    To ignore the extended years of fine economic conditions that Labour had simply shows what a crock this post is.

    • Zetetic 10.1

      Where does the post blame National for the increase? It blames it for doing nothing to minimise the increase.

      • craig 10.1.1

        What’s the point of the graph then? The graph seems to blame National for the increase… How does it show that National have done nothing to minimise the increase? You really need a second curve of “unemployment had the green deal been implemented” to do that.

        • Zetetic

          the graph shows there is a serious problem. It doesn’t apportion blame. That happens inside your own head. You don’t like what you see but you can’t bring yourself to admit that we have a serious unemployment problem at the moment that it is National’s responsibility to deal with.

          • craig

            “It doesn’t apportion blame. That happens inside your own head.”

            No actually it happens in the text after the graph, but nice try.

            I’m happy to agree that we have a serious unemployment problem at the moment and that it is National’s responsibility to deal with it.

            However like the majority of the country according to the latest polls, I’m quite happy with what they’re doing so far. You need some patience my friend. Especially if you’re going to keep voting for RAM 🙂

          • Zetetic

            “Since June last year, the numbers have nearly tripled back to where they were in 2005. By 2011, we’ll be back to where we were in 2003.”

            That apportions blame?

            So what if National’s support is still high? Doesn’t mean they’re doing the right thing?

  11. craig 11

    “Doesn’t mean they’re doing the right thing?”


    • Ari 11.1


      Or, in a sentence: Just because you’re popular doesn’t make you right.

      • craig 11.1.1

        See you’re talking about some theoretical truth, whereas I’m talking about politics. Big difference. (And note the exceptions on that page for democracy and capitalism.)

        • Ari

          No, I’m talking about actual practical truth, which remains completely unaffected by popularity.

          Doing what’s popular doesn’t mean you’re running the country well. In fact, doing ONLY what’s popular is a great way to make the country worse.

          The exception for “democracy” really isn’t an exception, it just notes that popularity (unsurprisingly) tends to lead to electoral success. That doesn’t mean historians will look back and say “Wow, the fifth National Government really dealt with that recession well.”

          • craig

            “Doing what’s popular doesn’t mean you’re running the country well. In fact, doing ONLY what’s popular is a great way to make the country worse.”

            It depends what you think is “well” or “worse” doesn’t it?

            Many people would argue that when Labour started doing things which weren’t popular, they started harming the country. A.k.a PC crap.

            But I mean most people think that murder is bad, and that a country with less murders is a better country. But that doesn’t mean it’s the actual truth does it? Who are you or I or anyone to judge?

            There’s a whole lot of really intelligent people with PhD’s from Ivy League colleges who would agree with what National’s doing, and a whole lot of likewise really intelligent people with Ivy PhD’s who wouldn’t. Who’s actually correct? We have no way of knowing.

            You’re correct that the majority aren’t always right, but likewise you aren’t always correct. For everyone of your views there are strong, thought out arguments against it.

            “That doesn’t mean historians will look back and say “Wow, the fifth National Government really dealt with that recession well.'”

            No, in the future historians won’t think anything, because when the sun ages in a couple of million years or whatever there will be no Earth / New Zealand / National party.

            There is no actual truth, there’s just the here and now. And the fairest way of governing is by generally following whatever the majority wants. If you can change the mind of the majority, get most of the public on the side of the Green New Deal for example, then that’s great. But until that happens the government represents the people and should be doing what most of them want. And if they don’t, they’ll be voted out at the next election.

            • Ari

              Many people would argue that when Labour started doing things which weren’t popular, they started harming the country. A.k.a PC crap.

              I don’t know who these mythical “most people” are, but I agree there’s plenty of conservatives who think this.

              You’re correct that the majority aren’t always right, but likewise you aren’t always correct. For everyone of your views there are strong, thought out arguments against it.

              Right, hence why I said that popularity is irrelevant to the truth, not that it has any effect on it.

              There is no actual truth, there’s just the here and now. And the fairest way of governing is by generally following whatever the majority wants.

              If you really believe this, there is NO POINT in having a parliament. We should run the country by direct democracy.

              I actually believe there exist some policies where following public opinion can cause short-term harm. (for instance removing the civil rights of minorities) The reason we elect representatives rather than poll the public on everything is because we want a coherent legislative agenda that work together with other laws. On issues where it really matters to the public and they have some good argument behind them, any half-intelligent government will listen.

              I think governments should be listening to positions that seem right, make sense, and if possible follow the mandate the public gave them.

  12. Tom Semmens 12

    The mass sackings in the civil service is a clear breaking of a election promise NOT to cut the civil service. The all-prevailing corporate media’s indoctrination that somehow the public sector is bad means this is another broken promise that National are being given a free ride on. But more to the point, it is plain dumb thing to be doing. These are high profile redundancies. For every person laid off in the government another twenty stop spending and pull up the financial drawbridge as job insecurity forces a panic-striken crash debt reduction program.

    For every one person sacked in this high profile way, twenty more stop spending. How does that help anything?

    • Anita 12.1

      I reckon there’s an electoral calculation in what’s being done to the core public service. Wellington swung toward National the least of all, so there are fewer soft votes to be lost in 2011.

      I agree re the media, the loss of jobs in the core public services is barely mentioned, and I’ve not seen anything in the media about the hiring freezes that DHB staff tell me about.

      • Jasper 12.1.1

        I don’t know about the DHB but the cops are on a hiring freeze also.

        Any staff who leave are not being replaced. Holidays have effectively been denied to all as there simply are no additional numbers to maintain a decent police force.
        We saw in the 90’s that this just leads to overstressed staff, which is never good in stressful and dangerous situations.

        It’ll get to the point where cops won’t have any time between call outs so if they pull over a speedster (to get their revenue up) who refuses to cooperate, those tasers will be used with alarming regularity.

        • Jared

          Care to back that up? Have a couple of mates in the Auckland region who are cops and haven’t experienced their holidays being denied. Wasn’t aware they had a hiring freeze either, care to back that one up as well?
          Or are you just scaremongering as usual?

  13. craig 13

    “The all-prevailing corporate media’s indoctrination that somehow the public sector is bad means this is another broken promise that National are being given a free ride on.”

    All those journalists in their Paratai Drive homes… Oh wait. The majority of journalists earn way less than the bureaucrats. Plus their industry is dying. if you wanna fell sorry for someone, feel sorry for them!

  14. Steve 14

    Craig, please surely you can do better than trot out the ‘Labour harming the country with P.C. crap’ line. If by that you refer to legalising prostitution, Civil Unions and supporting the amendment to s59 of the Crimes Act, at least try and prove your statement.

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