Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Kosying up to Key: Workers of the World Kompete

by Auckland union activist 
25 March 2009 

Productivity = fewer workers, producing more, in less time, and always has done. That’s why it’s totally wrong for Helen Kelly to offer the union movement's support to Key and the employers for more productivity!! Doesn't she know that NZ workers have increased productivity by 60% since the 1970s, without hardly any increase in buying power?

It’s the bosses who’ve been the beneficiaries of increased productivity, as evidenced by their record-breaking profits. The only way many working people could buy the goods they produced was to use credit. But this could only go on for so long.

The contradiction at the heart of the current economic crisis: the falling buying power of workers vs massive increases in production, had to cause a big crunch sooner or later. Employers are busy cutting back production and laying workers off. Millions of workers globally are being laid off at the same time as there’s an over supply of manufactured goods (warehouses and wharves are overflowing).

The rich know that someone has to pay for this recession. Naturally, they’re going to make as sure as hell it’s not them. In opposition to workers interests, the employers’ tactic is to increase productivity in an effort to undercut their competition for the remaining shrinking markets. So I can understand why Key is calling for more productivity. But why has CTU head Helen Kelly also supported this demand of the employers? Can Kelly explain the benefit for workers?

I can remember a time in the mid-70s when the new technologies were taking off, newspaper editorials were predicting that this would increase leisure time for everyone. But the opposite happened the working week was actually increased.

In the past a comparable lifestyle could be afforded with only one partner in the family, working a 40 hour week. Now, only with overtime and both partners working, can many workers meet the basic cost of living. Yet the modern wage worker is on average 3 to 4 times more productive than their grandfathers.

Enough of productivity, to get some balance back a four day week without loss of pay is a common sense solution to the economic crisis. The alternative: mass unemployment.

I admit that employers and an employer friendly government will never agree to cuts in productivity matched with an increase in wages without a massive push. But does it help to have our union leader cheering employer demands for more productivity? I don't think so.

Instead, unions should be defending working people from being plunged into the poverty and powerlessness of unemployment (which is a wage cut for our class) and launch a nationwide campaign to seize some of the wealth back. A four day week without loss of pay could be part of that campaign.

Most unionists and workers realise that to join the employers in demanding even more productivity is the wrong call at this time. Even the usually conservative EPMU leadership have publicly criticised Helen Kelly for her support of Key's plan for a 9 day fortnight with only partial compensation.

My question: is Helen Kelly prepared to change her mind, and as head of the CTU call for a united union campaign for a shorter working week without loss of pay, to save jobs? Or will she stick with Key and the employers in calling for more productivity which will make matters worse for workers, but preserve profits. Let's hope she changes tack, as the need for a real united fight-back is growing everyday.

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