Denis Welch blogs:
The Labour Party’s silence on the Ports of Auckland dispute is getting louder. Robert Winter has drawn attention to this in an excellent post: he says the dispute has become, potentially, the first defining moment for Labour under the new leadership of David Shearer, and they have to ‘step up and come out swinging on this issue.’
We wish. What is already remarkable about the dispute is how depoliticized it is, with not just Labour but all political parties keeping well clear of it. It’s a far cry from the days when ministers personally intervened in industrial action and Labour politicians sided with striking workers, even joining them on the picket line.
Oh I would love to see Labour MPs out on the wharfie picket line. That would be the best Xmas present ever.
But unless David Shearer is a moron, he will not be getting involved in this industrial dispute – especially as public support for the wharfies is confined to the UNITE union and the hard left.
When Denis Welch and Robert Winter urge David Shearer to get involved as a test of his leadership, they are not advocating in the best interests of the Labour Party – they are advocating for their views (nothing wrong with that) which are far to the left of Labour.
I don’t know if anyone has approached Shearer for comment or asked, um, wait a minute, who is Labour’s spokesperson on labour issues? I just looked it up: it’s Darien Fenton. Who knew? She may well be intensely credible on industrial relations but I don’t believe we’ve heard from her yet on the ports dispute.
I presume they have sedated Darien to stop her joining the picket line
The only Labourish public figure to even put a fingertip over the trenches so far is Auckland mayor Len Brown, and he has come down on the woolly side of woofterish by declaring resoundingly that he supports both sides.
There is an unhappy echo there of Walter Nash’s infamous response to the 1951 waterfront dispute when he was Labour’s leader: asked whether he supported the watersiders he said he was neither for nor against them. I have a horrible feeling that Shearer, if he ever does comment, will say much the same thing.
Shearer should choose his words more carefully than Brown, but he absolutely should not come out swinging for the Maritime Union. It would just pigeon hole him as captive to the unions which fund the Labour Party (MUNZ is one of them). Only 25% of NZers voted for Labour. I suspect not even a majority of those 25% have sympathy for militant industrial action from a union representing what must be the most highly paid unskilled jobs in New Zealand.
At the most you might get Shearer saying that he is against contracting out (as this is existing Labour policy), and wants both sides to reach a settlement. But he should resist all efforts to get him involved. He is the leader of the parliamentary labour party and of the opposition – he is not a union spokesman. Clark would have never got involved, and Shearer shouldn’t either.
Talking of MPs with a view though, a good column from Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross. He notes:
Every Aucklander has a stake in the Ports of Auckland. It is not a privately owned company. Nor is it listed on any stock exchange. Each and every share in the company is owned by the Auckland Council on behalf of 1.4 million Auckland residents and ratepayers. The destruction in value in one of our city’s largest public assets is alarming and has to be of concern to us all. …
But numbers aside, it is obvious that losing the trade of New Zealand’s largest company, only a month after losing the business of one of the worlds largest shipping lines, has to be a wakeup call. Yet sadly for the Maritime Union, it isn’t. Sadly for port workers and Aucklanders alike, the Maritime Union continues to be unphased.
This isn’t a story of a greedy corporate hammering the little guy. This isn’t a story of a David versus Goliath battle where workers are being ripped off or paid a pittance. Few could call poverty on an average annual wage for a wharfie understood to be north of $90,000, with a proposed 10 percent hourly rate increase and performance bonuses of up to 20 percent, sitting on the table. To the average person on the street, the latest Ports of Auckland offer to the Union would almost seem generous.
It would be most interesting if the Herald (or someone) did a poll to ascertain the public’s views on the stand off.
The trade union movement evolved through a desire for workers to band together to protect their common interests. This is not a dishonourable goal. But when a union loses sight of its members long term interests and cavalier negotiating tactics start to backfire, the union itself begins putting its own member’s livelihoods at risk.
Unions still occupy a privileged position in New Zealand’s employment law; a relic of the last Labour administration which has not seen significant overhaul for some years. Few non-government organisations can boast clauses in legislation specifically designed for their benefit. Despite only 18 percent of the nation’s workforce being unionised, trade unions can look to whole sections of the Employment Relations Act written exclusively to aid union survival through legislative advantage.
Unions do get many major legislative advantages. These should be reviewed. Take just one – why should employers act as unpaid fee collection agents for unions?
I say unions should be like any other incorporated society – let them invoice their members directly for their membership fees.
UPDATE: It seems Labour Whip Darien Fenton has been spotted on the picket line. No surprise, but will we see other Labour MPs join her?
Tags: Darien Fenton
, David Shearer
, Jami-Lee Ross
, Maritime Union
, Ports of Auckland