Tuesday, May 21

Why ‘Workers Now’?

New Zealand parliament’s green front lawn, sparkling in late morning sunshine. 

A few office workers wander off to lunch, tourists peer at the buildings and a little group of cleaners in overalls gather round their union official. 

“They shouldn’t be too much longer now. Ah yes- here they come!” 

A couple of Labour MPs saunter across the court, see the group and head over.

“Thanks thanks so much for coming,” the official effuses to his group – “These really busy people have been good enough to give up their time to hear your concerns”. 

The workers shift from one foot to another, smiling nervously at the really busy people. Confident-looking people, in expensive suits, people from a different world. The official briefly explains a minor law change that would benefit his union members. His members nod assent. 

“We hear what you say”, one of the really busy people replies. “Of course you understand though, being in opposition right now, we can’t do any of the things we’d like to do.”

“So we need to vote these people back don’t we!” chirps the union official.

“So… if you got back…” begins one of the workers… 

“Well, if we got back..we could…certainly… take a look at it”, says the other really busy person. 

“You have to understand these things do take a while you know.” 

At this, the union official agrees that yes, things like this do take a while. Almost before he’s done thanking the really busy people he says that they must be off now. They smile and wave in the direction of the workers, who never see or hear from them again. 

I was at that meeting and many others like it. During my years as a unionist, I’ve seen too much of that sort of shit. Hard working, low paid men and women getting fobbed off by their so-called representatives. Polite appeals to parliament from the poor are wasted breath. In opposition, MPs declare themselves powerless to act, when in government their hands are supposedly tied because the previous administration left things in such a mess that it will take years to clear up. 

To the poor, the House of Representatives is the House of Buffers, fending off their aspirations. Our politicians have become expert at doing this. A favourite Labour MP’s response to unionists’ claims goes: 

“Look, you people already know about economics without me having to tell you, right? You know how hard it is to balance your household spending with all those bills that all need to be covered?” The workers nod assent. They know only too well.

“Okay – well – you just imagine trying to do that with a whole country! It’s not easy! So, we have to take time and be very very careful making our budgeting decisions. We have to be realistic. So that everyone’s still got a job, right?”

The latest in the long line of political bullshit excuses is “international forces”, which appeared in the letter in my mailbox yesterday from the office of Prime minister Chris Hipkins -” …we aren’t immune to the international forces driving up prices around the world..” 

We may not be immune to these nebulous forces, but not everyone suffers. Some of us, like Mr Hipkins, still manage to be decently paid, housed and fed.

On the other side of the fence, things get done as soon as they’re needed to get done. The useful people in society efficiently drive the trucks, harvest the trees, staff the shops, pick up the rubbish, kill the meat, mend the roads and railways in the middle of the night. In a civilised society, these workers who do these dangerous, tedious, necessary tasks would be properly recompensed. Paid at least as much as those who operate with clean hands, in risk free comfortable surroundings. 

Today, a reduced social contract, increasingly aggressive capitalist practices and a hog-tied declining union movement has put workers further behind. In my working lifetime I’ve seen inequality in this country become markedly worse. Today, New Zealand has 14 billionaires while growing numbers of workers in full-time employment must ask for food parcels to survive. A few people own numerous houses, while more and more exist in expensive substandard accommodation. Working people’s children miss out on decent health care and education. Disillusioned, seeing no future before them, young people turn to crime. To New Zealand’s poor, the Prime minister says; “Of course there are no quick fixes to international issues like the cost of living”. 

Yes, there are. As we’ve seen, it takes but a few minutes for MP’s salaries to be adjusted up. Why can’t the rest of us have the same treatment?

Worker’s fortunes have unfairly declined too far for too long. There is no good reason for this wrong state of affairs to continue. 

WORKERS NOW is one of the voices demanding change. Below is the ten-point programme we’re taking into this year’s election and organising for outside of parliament:

  1. More money for workers, now. An immediate rise in the minimum wage and benefit levels. For annual state-mandated pay and benefit rises, equal to the rate of inflation, for all wage-earners.
  1. Solidarity with union struggles and drives to organise the unorganised workers. Remove all the existing restrictions on the right to strike. For union control of health and safety on the job. Full union and residency rights for all immigrant workers, including citizenship for those who choose to stay. Open the borders to health and hospitality workers, and anyone else who needs to come here to find work.
  1. For a massive programme of state house construction to meet the housing shortage, with rents capped at 10% of the income of the occupants.
  1. For a concurrent programme of public works. For example: repair and build public hospitals; fix the decayed water infrastructure – to be publicly owned and directly run by elected local government boards with special representation for Māori.
  1. Fund these public works through progressive income tax and profit taxes on big businesses. No income tax on welfare benefits or incomes below $80,000. Abolish the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
  1. Defend freedom of speech against the censors, both state and self-appointed. Defend scientific thinking, whilst also defending the right to disseminate unpopular ideas, including false and conspiracist ideas. Workers need freedom to confront and debate all ideas and opinions, including those they reject.
  1. Defend the rights of women. Defend the right of women to single-sex public toilets, changing facilities, refuges, and prisons. No biological males in women’s sports. Prosecute rapists to the full extent of the law. Remove Sex Self ID clauses from the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act.
  1. Stop the illegal photographing and targeting of young people, and the racial profiling of Māori youth in particular, by police. Destroy the photo files. For a full public inquiry into the shooting of Shargin Stevens. Discrimination against Māori weakens the entire working class.
  1. No support for AUKUS, NATO or any other imperialist military alliance. For workers’ solidarity with the embattled people of Ukraine. Russian troops out now.
  1. Ditch the Emissions Trading charade and the practice of carbon-credit farming that feeds off it. Nationalise electricity generation and fossil fuel production and distribution, as the first step towards beginning a rapid transition away from carbon-based energy. No special taxes on farmers.

If you like our ideas, join with us!

Don Franks, Workers Now candidate for Wellington Central.
donfrankspiano@gmail.com and phone 02108693969

Author