Labour policy starts to be a bit different
As a union we are very keen to have a Labour-led government established that can take steps to help lift workers’ wages and improve their living standards more broadly. This week’s policy announcement of “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” begins to make that seem a possibility.
An increase of two dollars an hour in two steps by early 2015 will make a meaningful difference for hundreds of thousands of workers. For Unite Union nearly all our collective agreements begin with the minimum wage so we will begin bargaining in the new year with a 14% pay increase in the bag. That will allow us to focus on the other big issue workers we represent face – getting secure hours. Labour also committed to raising the minimum wage to two-thirds of the average wage by the end of the second term. This is the first time this has been promised by Labour even with the escape clause of “as economic conditions allow”.
Other promises include:
- Ensure that all core public service workers are paid at least the Living Wage, and extend this as fiscal conditions permit
- Make the Crown a leader in good employment practises and ensure that government bodies only contract with businesses that are good employers
- Hold a Commission of Inquiry into wages and collective bargaining, and implement its findings to ensure workers get a fair deal
- Review health and safety laws and ensure Worksafe New Zealand is adequately resourced
In the first 100 days Labour will:
- increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, with a further increase to $16.25 an hour in early 2015;
- introduce 26 weeks paid parental leave;
- set a course to raise the minimum wage to two-thirds of the average wage by the end of our second term, as economic conditions allow;
- restore workers’ right to contest dismissals during the first 90 days of employment by abolishing the current government’s Fire At Will law;
- scrap youth rates, because they violate the principle of equal pay for equal work;
- restore reinstatement as the primary remedy when an employee has been unjustifiably dismissed, along with the objective test for justification;
- restore union access rights;
- maintain the presumption that a collective agreement will be concluded once bargaining is initiated;
- ensure fair procedures for multi-employer bargaining;
- strengthen the present facilitation processes so that after a reasonable period of time a determination is made rather than waiting for agreement between the parties;
- restore the right of film and television workers to collective bargaining.
During the speeches for the closing of parliament Labour Leader David Cunliffe appeared much more comfortable and confident presenting a programme that would make a difference in peoples lives. The right wing are so much on the back foot over issues of income inequality that they have no coherent response. That is a good thing.
Up to now in the electoral cycle Labour and its leader David Cunliffe seemed trapped in a bubble and unable to connect with working people and their concerns. Some policy announcements like those around raising the age of national superannuation and rapidly paying off the national debt seem designed to reassure big business while putting off workers whose bodies can’t face manual work until they are in their late 60s. Other outbursts were just foolish given how they would be read by the media. That also revealed a real lack of consultation by him with his campaign team – another worry.
The latest Roy Morgan opinion poll however is starting to look promising. National have regularly been polling above 50% – enough to govern alone. The left consoled itself with the fact that this was true before the last two elections and they dropped 6% or so during the election campaign period. In this poll National has dropped to 46% before the main campaign period has begun. Labour is on 30%, the Greens on 12%, Internet Mana 2.5% – a 1.5% difference that bloc of parties committed to changing the government and National. If that bloc can get just 3% more between them then it is all over for the government.
The deal National have done with Act and United Future is of little net gain gain to the right. In the Roy Morgan Poll both are on 0.5% of the party vote. Assuming that vote would have gone to National anyway and given them one more list MP, then the deal with both parties is only a gain of one.
Because there are 120 seats in parliament then each 0.8% of the party vote is usually enough for an MP. Actually, because of wasted votes – votes for parties that don’t reach the threshold of five percent or win an electorate – then 0.7% is enough in practise.
So long as Act and United Future remain below 1.4% in the party vote – which seems assured – then they will be unable to bring in any additional MP’s with them. So any improvement for either party between 0.5% and 1.4% is a wasted vote.
The real danger was the Conservative Party. Although it is only on 1% on the Roy Morgan Poll it seems more likely to get 1.4% of the party vote or above. But because they are unlikely to win a seat or reach the 5% threshold then all their party vote will be wasted. National seriously considered pulling their candidate to make sure the Conservative leader Colin Craig won. But Winston Peter’s threat to run in the electorate if that happened killed off that idea. A smart move on his part.
The Maori Party remains a danger. In the Roy Morgan poll they get 1.5%. That has been reasonably steady in most polls. The only electorate they could possibly win is the Waiariki electorate held by current party leader Te Ururoa Flavell. If he wins he gets to bring in at least one more for the right. That is why is is extraordinarily stupid for Labour leader David Cunliffe to rule out a tactical vote for Mana candidate Annette Sykes in that electorate. The Labour candidate has no chance of winning. Annette came a close second last time and is poised to take the seat. It makes complete sense for Labour to say that in this electorate they are campaigning for the party vote only. A defeat for Flavell means a reduction in the number of MP’s on the right of at least two and possibly three if the Maori Party was to lift its party vote to 2.1%.
The last player this election is NZ First. They are on 5% in the latest poll and seem likely to get at least that. However they cannot be trusted to go with the opposition bloc if they hold the balance of power. If Labour is able to form a government with the Greens and NZ First they will do so. But it would be far preferable if Internet Mana also had a balance of power on the left that could neutralise the votes of NZ First if required in order to pass more progressive legislation that NZ First would be comfortable with. Internet Mana doesn’t need to have ministerial portfolios for that to happen. In fact as I have explained elsewhere I hope they don’t formally go into government.
I accept that Labour are not what I would describe as a system-changing party. For me the Mana Movement is the only party that fits that bill. It has shown itself to be a party committed to radical change to put power into the hands of the majority of working people so that they call the shots not the super-rich one percent who do now.
But as a unionist who wants the best for my members I also know that no one wants to wait decades for a new society when benefits can be won today. That is why most workers vote for what they think are more “realistic” modest changes being put forward by the likes of Labour and the Greens.
The problem with being more realistic all the time is that it inspires no one. More people did not vote in the last election than voted for the winning National Party. Most of those people would have voted for the opposition parties if they had voted. They felt no compelling reason to do so. They don’t trust the traditional parties and their leaders. In Latin America on the other hand it was the “radical” parties in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador who were able to win massive electoral majorities and mobilise people in their millions because the alternative they were proposing involved fundamental changes to power and wealth in society. As a rule the majorities they won in elections increased rather than decreased the more radical and system challenging they were.
By failing to challenge the system and its distribution of wealth and power the moderate parties also often retreated in the face of right wing business opposition. This happened under the Helen Clarke-led Labour government from 1999-2008 which seemed to run out of progressive ideas within a year or two of being elected. Or in an even worse scenario the leaders of these parties get seduced and corrupted to the point they are willing to do everything necessary to keep the system going (on terms set by big business) even if it involves massive attacks on their own supporters. This was true of the 1984-90 Labour government in New Zealand and the Tony Blair-led Labour government in the UK.
However, when they do promise changes that benefit working people in order to be elected then we need to hold them to account. Unite did this when the Labour pronised an increase to the minimum wage from $9 an hour to $12 “if economic conditions permitted” in 2005. We organised a mass political and industrial campaign in support of this demand and the abolition of youth rates. We won both demands. We should organise just as massively to win additional real increases in the minimum wage to met the target of two-thirds of the avearge wage. To be indifferent to that possibility because “these parties always betray us in the end” is simply to betray the interests of the working class which needs to intervene in these debates between establishment parties to advance our own agenda through independent political and industrial action.
But the most important thing workers should fight for from a future Labour-led government that feels the need to maintain our votes are the tools to organise with and build our own power. We should demand from the next government laws that allow unions to organise hundreds of thousands of workers into unions so we can change the power relationships between the bosses and the workers in a more fundamental way. This must include the right to take industrial action to enforce agreements as well as negotiate them. As the old saying goes hand-outs are OK but hand-ups are much more meaningful in the long term.