Workers and Dear John

Written By: - Date published: 7:34 am, July 28th, 2010 - 34 comments
Categories: class war, john key, Unions, wages - Tags: ,

National is making a total mess of industrial relations. Two different news items yesterday tell the same story. The unions are angry:

PM broke his word to unions says Kelly

A union leader has written a “Dear John” letter to Prime Minister John Key, effectively announcing a divorce between unions and the Government and accusing him of breaking his word.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly has criticised Mr Key for leaving the unions out of the labour law reforms he announced last weekend at the party’s national conference. The changes include extending the 90-day trial period to all employers and requiring employer consent for union access to workplaces. …

“You also said you wanted to work with the unions,” she wrote. “And you portrayed yourself as a moderating influence in employment law matters. That has changed.” … Ms Kelly’s letter said the law changes were a “slur” on workers and painted them as “lazy, untrustworthy skivers that are out of control and need to be disciplined”.

The teachers are angry:

Teacher salary negotiations stall

Negotiations between the Ministry of Education and the union representing secondary school teachers have stalled, with the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) walking away from the bargaining table after what it calls 13 fruitless sessions.

“The ministry has had a month since members overwhelmingly rejected its unacceptable offer and it has come back to the table with nothing new – we are not going to waste members’ time and money talking about the same thing over and over,” PPTA president Kate Gainsford said. Ms Gainsford said the ministry appeared to have no will to address teachers’ concerns and continued to undervalue teachers.

That’s an awful lot of angry voters. Nats beware. Nice Mr Key could so quickly become Dear John…

34 comments on “Workers and Dear John”

  1. Tiger Mountain 1

    Action on these industrial matters really needs to become a ‘never ending campaign’, a) to build and maintain union organisation regardless of what government is in office and b) to try and derail substantially the Natz desired changes in workplaces c) to assist in the end of this National government as a bonus, not the ‘holy grail’.
    • non union workers, consumers and communities (parents, patients) have to be included in various ways, confining this to protecting the organised will not be effective.
    • tactics need to be flexible, short sharp stoppages, instant stopwork meetings to discuss matters, working to agreement (a lot of workers have almost literally bent over backwards to assist employers over the last 2 years).
    • creative use of media including budget video clips, product boycotts
    • Anecdotes and a data base of employer abuse be started-thousands of families have workplace stories but for reasons such as Lprent has tabled here they are not being meaningfully recorded
    • The negative effect on our country of downward pressure on wages and physcological damage of management by fear and stress in a time of high unemployment

    • just saying 1.1

      Nailed it.

      Biggest problem (and the perennial one) is how to get the “non’organised” involved.

      This “never ending campaign” has to include equally strong resistance to weakening the provision of social welfare. The attacks on workers and welfare are a two-pronged assault, that will, if successful, significantly weaken the entire working class. That’s almost all of us. The effects would continue to deepen over time. And in IMO these, along with other ‘austerity measures’ will most likely worsen and prolong the recession, and that ’emergency’ will allow the government to take even more draconian actions against us.

      In the meantime, how could we help stop the working class ‘cannibalising’ itself, with the “deserving poor” blaming the “undeserving poor” for their plights, with all the attendant aggression and bigotries that involves? I’ve thought of spending a little bit of time politely giving an alternative view in “talkback-Taliban-land”, not expecting to win anyone over, just getting an opposing voice heard. But frankly, even tuning in for a couple of hours a week would seriously sap my will to live.

      • Bill 1.1.1

        “Biggest problem (and the perennial one) is how to get the “non’organised’ involved.”

        Easy.

        First though, it’s necessary to recognise that the likes of union members are not organised in any meaningful and empowering sense of the word. The union as an organisation utilises union membership to build bargaining power. But the individual union members are more or less spectators to the events that they make possible. Their role is reduced to a yeah or a neigh on various presented conclusions. And that is true of most organisations. A small group within the organisation possesses or has full access to knowledge and resources and they then determine the direction of the organisation and make the decisions with the role of members commonly reduced to that of making choices between predetermined options.

        So the first task is to free members of organisations from the restrictive regime of their organisations. And that is achieved by the simple measure of banning from meetings any representative views or arguments.

        At a traditional meeting (typically under the auspices of a coalition) if there was a Labour politician, a union official, a Green Party member and a person who is not a part of any group or organisation, then what would tend to happen is the following.

        The Labour Party politician, representing their party would enjoy most of the power in any decision making process. The union official and the Green Party member would have less, but a not insignificant amount of power and would have a corresponding amount of influence on any given decision. Meanwhile the individual, who may well be afforded a sympathetic ear,would have no power or influence at all.

        Which as an organisational structure is extremely anti- democratic and contains the seeds of its own destruction. There is a reason that coalitions do not persist through time or beyond single issues. They exist within and encourage zero sum game competitive environments, where each actor strives against the others to achieve access to the power and decision making abilities that reside with the most powerful element of the coalition. And so almost inevitably, disagreements become amplified and eventually lead to splits or expulsions and so on.

        In the second scenario, the Labour MP and the others attend the meeting as individuals. Not as representatives. So immediately the power differentials are levelled; the decision making processes are democratised and individuals equally empowered.

        That the Green Party member or the Labour MP or the union official has access to resources that the individual does not posses…photo copiers say…does not afford those people any more power than anyone else. All it means is that the broader movement might have access to certain resources.

        And because nobody is representing any constituency or organisation, the destructive competition inherent to coalition structures simply isn’t there. There is no Labour Party agenda or Green Party agenda or union agenda. Instead, there are constantly shifting sets of priorities which emerge, change and develop in line with what participants desire and in relation to the changing external political reality.

        This is far too long for a comment.

        I’ll stop now. Suffice to say, if you want the ‘non-organised’ involved, then organisational structures need to be looked at. But apart from that, paste or post a pile of A4 flyers around (churches, community groups, unions, political parties, universities, notice boards, cafes, etc, etc) laying out the basic premise for a nascent movement. Outline the expectations of participants (individuals, not representatives) and set a time and place for an initial meeting.

        Oh. And after you have done that. Lay a strategy for dealing with elements of the authoritarian left who will inevitably attempt to hi-jack proceedings at some point. Typically they bitch about the denial of their democratic rights, meaning their right to determine the agenda; their right to stamp their brand on literature and actions etc; and ultimately, their right to command and control.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1

          As much as I agree with you Bill there’s one problem with what you postulate. It’s impossible to get that sort of many to many relationship working. We don’t have the time or the resources.

        • just saying 1.1.1.2

          Thanks for taking the time Bill.

          I agree with you in the long term. When our way of life starts to change drastically and we are forced to live simply in non-capitalist oil-free communities, refusing to change our ‘minds’ will no longer be an option. In the meantime people will continue to think in much the same ways they always have, and live in their safe, comforting, fantasy worlds.

          Until then, hiearchical organisational structures, with their power dynamics and traditional leaderhips will IMO continue to “exist” in the minds of individuals; in their assumptions and world views. Without massive external change this will be very hard to shift in most people – it’s how we’ve been socialised.

          A huge amount of harm can and will be done before peak oil, peak water, peak soil etc forces our hands, and this harm will help determine the position the working class will be in to deal with the changes when they come. I guess what I’m saying is until our lives are completely turned around, to a certain extent we have to work with what we’ve got.

          I have taken on board, and thought about incorporating participatory economics into our current means of protest, and I think you are right about how the existing movements of dissent are self-defeating because they can alienate many unaligned individuals who are sympathetic to the causes. But I don’t think we can afford to just stop our current methods of resistance in the hope that better methods will somehow organically replace them.

          At the moment, it may be necessary to increasingly incorporate more democratic, particpatory methods into the current protest movements, I hope that is already starting to happen. And at the same time develop the participatory movements in parallel with them.

          • Bill 1.1.1.2.1

            Both you guys are being way too pessimistic.

            The organisational structure that I partly outlined is readily adopted by most people as a ‘natural’ way of doing things. The only people who attempt to hang on to hierarchical structures are those who are irredeemably wed to parties, organisations or cults with a predetermined agenda and a wont for domination. And that is by no means the majority of people.

            In 2001/02 there was the beginnings of a movement down this way that revolved around the invasion of Afghanistan. It was incredibly vibrant and encompassed a remarkable cross section of people, many of whom would never normally have come together to organise no matter the issue at hand.

            Right from the outset there was a concious decision by the instigators of the whole thing to avoid coalition politics/structures.

            Participation rates grew very fast. A number of different and imaginative actions were successfully undertaken. There was a general feeling of empowerment and inclusion which generated a mass of positive energy and some people were talking of things beyond the immediate issue. It was the beginning of a genuine movement. And I can’t stress this enough…people took to it naturally.

            What killed it was the authoritarian left who set up in competition. I kid you not. They literally set themselves up in opposition and competition. They devoted a lot of time and energy to undermining what was happening and eventually succeeded. So for a short time there was the march and the chant and the rally and the ‘corporatese’ banners and placards. And then nothing.

            The reason the cultists were able to destroy things lay in the fact that people had come to the movement scenario naturally, hadn’t thought through the structures and so couldn’t perceive the threats to the integrity of the movement that the activities and demands of the authoritarian left posed.

            By the time they did, it was too late, and things just faded away and ceased.

            Hopefully, the lesson as been learned and does not need to be learned all over again the next time around.

            edit DtB. Resources abound when meaningful participation is allowed. You’d be amazed at the amount of different and necessary resources that a wide cross section of people can access and muster up.

  2. The opportunity exists to derail Mr Key’s government in a way that he did not expect. ER was a secondary issue when he was elected. Ms Wilkinson, constantly missing in action and lacking any understanding of the portfolio, was a very lowly person in the Cabinet’s pecking order. The promise to do little in the area gave the unions little space to moan and rail. Ineptly, and contingently, Mr Key has allowed the area to become mainstream, and in a way that shows that he lied to the CTU, is wholly in the pocket of employer groups, and cares little for the average working punter. Issues of fairness, respect and trust are now front and centre and will be an important aspect of the debate in the coming election. Labour and the unions have been given a stick to beat Mr Key’s government; the rat will be in how it is applied.

  3. tc 3

    IR was always going to become bigger then they’d like it to be once it was handed to the ineffective lightweight Wilkinson but this is a sympton of this no-talent gov’t……her or tolley/bennett/collins/wong etc ah such quality choices.

    One of her first appearances had Holmes showing her ineptness which’s scary as Holmes is a lightweight. Problem for the Nat’s is this and other portfolios requires some degree of ability to both get the job done (to their backers satisfaction) and make sideshow look all smiley and wavey as they’ve dealt with their issues.

    Then again when you’re led by a banker with dickensian atitudes to the workforce you’re always going to be exposed as the luddites you are.

    • prism 3.1

      Hey don’t give the ladies all the credit when assessing the low talent of the government tc – what about Healey, Brownlee,Key, Joyce, Ryall, English to name a few of the other Great Idols in the running for in-fame.

  4. loota 4

    Tiger, unions also need to push for changes in the way businesses are managed and the way that Govt encourages home grown NZ skills and home grown NZ business.

    NZ’ers must see that unions are at the forefront of economic thinking, champions of productivity, technology and innovation, and not simply seeking a return to the widespread industrial disruptions of the 1970’s and 1980’s without new solutions.

    Basically the NATs next tactic will to position unions as being the enemies of business, productivity and profits, when in fact unions often lead the way in helping NZ business owners achieve each of these things.

    And then of course, ensuring that the union membership -and all workers- get a fair share of the benefits from that joint success.

  5. Firsttimereader 5

    Oh yeah because union leaders so voted for John Key last time and he can’t afford to annoy them. Just like the only reason Phil Goff will lose the election next time is the business roundtable thinks his policies are stupid.

    • I can assure you that Union leaders did not vote for Key last time.

      Key managed to suck in the moderates amongst us. Remember the talk of being “labour lite”, how we would keep everything that Labour had done but also get a tax cut? How there was to be no “scaring of the horses”?

      Well only the wealthy got the tax cuts and the rest of the population has watched as their rights have been slowly whittled away bit by bit.

      And the day that Phil Goff has to rely on the Business Roundtable approving Labour’s policies to be elected is the day that we can kiss our way of life goodbye.

      • Firsttimereader 5.1.1

        That was called irony ms. I do remember last time laboru and unions said key was the devil and all hell would break loose if he became pm, and now he’s more popular than anybody since polling began. So yeah you union buggers don’t have much credibility in predicting what the public will think. Key doesn’t need union leaders supporting him. The public are sick of unions holding the government to ransom. If they want a fight they’ll have one, and lose. If they lose then their members will start to think what the point is of having unions represent them who go on strike and achieve nothing.

        • prism 5.1.1.1

          ftreader Hey some good cliches here ‘unions holding the government to ransom’ etc. Now do some more reading.

          There are power blocs (farming, big business, particularly the liquor industry – the legal drug industry) that can influence government and there is a need to lobby (unions and social welfare organisations) for any other groups that will never be the favourite flavour of the month. To some people any concessions to those lobbyists is too much, hence ‘they are holding the country to ransom’.

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.2

        And the day that Phil Goff has to rely on the Business Roundtable approving Labour’s policies to be elected is the day that we can kiss our way of life goodbye.

        Already happened. The 4th Labour government was fully supported by the Business Roundtable.

    • Craig Glen Eden 5.2

      The point is Firsttimereader Key has bought a battle that he didn’t have to have with a group of people who can organise against him. If he had left well alone he would have no problem. Who is he helping? Not many good employers are going to champion this cause, all this policy does is to allow bad employers to escape adopting good practice. This intern means that companies who are competing with them in the market place and who are behaving well towards workers are to some degree penalised. While I accept that this is only short term because treating people well pays of in long term productivity it does mean the Nats are assisting bad employers to be bad employers.

      What needs to happen is any employer that uses these 90 day prevision needs to be identified and that companies services or products boycotted.

      I spoke to a guy last night who I would never have thought would stand against this new provision. I have known this guy for 25 years he would be considered to be a Pentecostal Christian type. He told me that he was at the march and how impressed he was with the speakers and the spread of people their. I asked him how come he went he said the law was terrible it was unfair and made vulnerable people more vulnerable and that he had received a notice via his email I think, from the Union he then said he contacted as many people as he could given the short notice. I can tell you I just about fell over after he told me this. The other thing he said was that the media’s painting them as rent a mob was not true and that there was all sorts of people there from all walks of life.
      So the campaign needs to start because this is going to grow legs I think, much to my surprise.

      • loota 5.2.1

        The last time large scale demonstrations like this were organised, in the early 90’s, there was no such thing as Facebook and only a few people were on email. Today a notice of a protest can go out and 50,000 people can receive it inside of 5 seconds.

        Frakin’ awesome.

  6. jbanks 6

    National will be a bit concerned about the growing annoyance of teacher. But unions? C’mon. Unions is still a word people outside of the public sector don’t want to be associated with.

  7. Maggie 7

    I have never been able to follow why conservatives had unions so much. They don’t hate the Law Society, Federated Farmers or Manufacturers’ Associations, why do unions get them all lathered up?

  8. Helen Kelly 8

    The full letter to John Key can be found here http://union.org.nz/sites/union/files/John%20Key%20letter%2021%20July%202010.pdf

    It provides more detail of how these changes will impact on working people and what the changes represent in terms of how the Government views workers. We are concerned about the process – but the substance will drive down wages and conditions in this country in the same way the Employment Contracts Act did -that is the real issue here. Join us 21 August for rallies to oppose these changes – more details coming soon.

    • r0b 8.1

      Thanks for that Helen – and all the best for the fight ahead.

      • Jenny 8.1.1

        Here, Here.
        And let’s see lots of Labour Party banners this time. And Labour Party MPs who can get up and speak at the rallys to show their support. This could enliven the stay at home vote.

        The electoral spin offs could be enormous.

  9. tc 9

    Good point prism however I do find it fascinating the Nat’s appear to be balancing up the male duds with female ones who are desperate to claw their way up the Nats greasy pole …collins/bennett are classics in this respect. Tolley/Wong/Wilkinson just appear thick as.

  10. Bella 10

    Thank you Helen – I look forward to hearing about the upcoming rallies. It may be that we now have to take to the streets more to protect our rights in the workplace. I believe a strong show now is very important. We never want to let John Key state that he has a mandate for wrecking the remains of the union movement in NZ.

  11. Fisiani 11

    Does anyone really actually care what union officials think? They never ever vote National but many of their members do and will continue to do so. The sky will not fall in in the next year with the 90 day right to prove yourself being, I predict, successful in over 90% of cases.
    Teachers, irrespective of their ability to do the job, will continue to have a secure well paying job with great holidays and enjoy a realistic pay rise.

    • Tiger Mountain 11.1

      “Teachers, irrespective of their ability to do the job, will continue to have a secure well paying job with great holidays and enjoy a realistic pay rise.’

      So Fizz you’ve now added the ability to predict the future to your previous repertoire of casual slander and mis-placed condescension.

  12. Olwyn 12

    This can be understood as a sop to productive businesses at the workers expense, along the lines of, “We can’t protect you from the vicissitudes of currency-trading, but we can give you premission to you kick your workers, and to chase the unions off your premises.”

  13. prism 13

    tc I was listening to an interview with Marilyn Waring by Laidlaw on Sunday, I think. She decided cool-headedly to enter politics with National as she had a better chance to win the local National seat. Eventually Muldoon felt forced by her into calling an election because his tight-right hold on power was weakened by her independent thinking, particularly if she chose to vote against him in a no confidence vote.

    It’s better for NACT to have compliant women who don’t have many ideals which would conflict with the thrust of NACTs self-serving policies. Women pollies who follow the classist materialist line wanted are the right choice for them.

  14. Gosman 14

    “That’s an awful lot of angry voters. ”

    Ummmmm…. voters who on the whole generally vote for left leaning parties.

    Why should John Key worry about alienatinf people who wouldn’t normally vote for his political party anyway?

    • Pascal's bookie 14.1

      Because a lot of them stayed home in 08.

      And a fair few people that ‘generally vote for left leaning parties’ voted for ‘Labour plus tax cutz north of fifty dollars a week’.

      • Gosman 14.1.1

        Well if they want bigger tax cuts that can be arranged. We just have to cut more government spending.

        • Pascal's bookie 14.1.1.1

          We just have to cut more government spending.

          But they don’t want that. Or at least, if you try and cut spending in the big areas enough to give a decent tax cut, umm. never mind, pollies always seem to chicken out. Wonder why? Oh yeah. The punters like their services more than they hate their tax cutz.

          Hence, and is why:

          Cut taxes—> budget blowout—> servce cuts —-> Fuckn yuck—-> opposition sez ‘let’s tax the rich pricks’ —> storms into power and starts rebuilding the decayed services that people like.

          Rinse:Repeat.

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