Thursday, 22 May 2008

Trade unions, and trouble with the "lesser evil"

by Health Unionist

When Labour’s third-ranked cabinet minister starts talking about the possibility of defeat in the upcoming election, you know they're in real trouble. In my union, there’s a whole lot of thinking going on already about life under the Goff scenario – with National potentially in power by year’s end.

People are talking about the need to mobilise members to fight this time, unlike in 1991 when many unions retreated before the blitzkreig of an incoming National government. Which makes yesterday's media release from the Council of Trade Unions, below, all the more disturbing.

Even as workers turn their backs on Labour in disgust, CTU secretary Carol Beaumont has announced she’s standing as a Labour Party candidate.

Beaumont is the latest and highest profile union leader to nail her colours to Labour’s mast. She joins the president of the country’s largest union, the Engineering Printing & Manufacturing Union, who’s standing for Labour in the safe National seat of Clutha-Southland. Behind the scenes, CTU president (and former member of Labour’s National Policy Council) Helen Kelly is sure to be working for Labour, too. As is CTU vice-president Richard Wagstaff from the pro-Labour PSA public sector union.

This does not augur well for a fighting union movement. Time and again, loyalty to Labour among top union leaders blunts the movement’s fighting edge and ends up strengthening National’s agenda. It happened in 1991, when they refused to organise a mass campaign in defiance of National’s anti-union laws, and it’s happening today.

In 2005 the CTU waged a strong, united campaign against National’s tax cuts, managing to shift the focus onto higher wages and collective bargaining. But now that Labour is promising tax cuts, the unions are hesitant. There is no strong counter-argument to National’s agenda.

In the past, the CTU has opposed free trade. But when it’s Labour signing a flagship free trade deal with China, which will cost jobs and drive down wages here while strengthening the oppressive regime in Beijing, the CTU mumbles its endorsement.

In industrial battles, too, from Air NZ to the junior doctors dispute, allegiance to Labour among the upper echelons leads unions to pull their punches and breeds disunity. Come 2009, a defeated Labour Party under a new leader would be likely to pull the whole show even further to the right.

To those many trade unionists who are now seeing the need for a vigorous, fighting movement to confront a future National government, we say this: The trouble with backing the "lesser evil" is that win or lose, you still end up with an evil.

It’s time to cut ties with Labour. Join the broad left movement which is standing in the election and is committed to mass grassroots resistance. Join RAM.

CTU secretary to stand in election

21 May 2008

The Council of Trade Unions governing body met today and were formally advised of secretary Carol Beaumont’s selection as the Labour candidate for Maungakiekie in Auckland at this year’s election.

“Carol has been a hardworking advocate for working people all her life, and she will make an excellent contribution for workers in Parliament, although the CTU will miss her wide range of skills,” CTU vice president Richard Wagstaff said tonight.

“Carol will run a strong campaign and we are confident she will win her seat, and we wish her well as an MP representing working people in Parliament.”

Carol was elected secretary of the CTU in 2003 after 20 years involvement in unions both in New Zealand and Australia, as delegate, executive member, organiser and union secretary, Richard Wagstaff said.

No comments: