By Matt McCarten
from Herald on Sunday
After two years it seemed the left was never going to get a break. I’m stoked to announce we have got it at last.
Two weekends ago we had our first good news when the mayoral front-runners in our five major cities lost. The wins were significant politically in Auckland and Wellington.
Who would have thought a small grey man called Brown could arouse so much enthusiasm? Mind you, if the right relies on a grey man called John Key to keep their party in the stratosphere I guess we can swoon for Brown.
And just when the left were still hugging each other in delight, the Labour Party for the first time since who knows when got excited about being left-wing again.
Labour Party president Andrew Little set the scene by giving a speech I’m sure he had always wanted to give.
No more “measured and responsible” nonsense that was the norm under Helen Clark’s regime. It was good rousing stuff. It wasn’t revolutionary - that would be too much to expect - but it showed Little’s real emotional connection to the workers’ cause.
Little’s example fired up the latent leftie sentiments still lurking in the faithful. Even Phil Goff got in on the act, revelling in his new role as the “left-wing” leader, dissing everything he once advocated for on behalf of his old boss Roger Douglas.
It was a bit forced and it was hard to swallow his Road to Damascus conversion. But I’ll play along for now.
But most of what the conference did mattered little. It was rather the universal acceptance by conference attendees that the new-right experiment was wrong and it’s now over.
As you’d expect, their alternatives were vague and weak. The answer to National’s GST hike - to take it off some foods and keep it at 15 per cent for everything else - is gimmicky. And the idea to extend allowances to help working families misses the point. The only answer to low wages is to increase them, not get other workers to subsidise low-wage-paying bosses, however well intentioned.
But whatgot me genuinely excited this week was that union workers turned out in their thousands in mass rallies around the country to protest the National-Act government’s anti-worker laws. They were the biggest in 20 years. Workers know these new laws have no intention of “helping vulnerable workers” get jobs, as Key pretends.
Instead they are intended to make workers scared and compliant. The pretence from Key is over and the nastiness of this government is obvious.
If you had any doubt just look at the knee-jerk reaction from Key and his ministers who couldn’t help themselves from jumping into an “industrial dispute” and side with an international conglomerate against a small group of Kiwi actors.
The actors’ crime, it seems, is that they dared to ask their fellow actors to not work on a job until their overseas employer agreed to discuss their pathetic pay and conditions. No doubt after some ritual grovelling Key will agree to give the US film bosses who own the hobbits another big tax break.
Quite frankly until we make overseas and local employers accept their responsibilities to provide secure fulltime jobs on decent wages, we’ll continue to be serfs in our own country.
There are parallels between the hobbit-owners and the Rugby World Cup. Both events have had the Kiwi taxpayer fronting much of the money while the profits will be channelled into mostly overseas private hands, with low wages for the Kiwis who make it happen.
During the World Cup the international hotel chains will ride on the backs of our national sport, to which they contribute nothing. They will charge their guests 10 times their normal room rate, keep their workers’ pay rates to a minimum, then ship their massive windfall profit offshore.
After this week I see a change among the workers. Time for the hobbits to rise up. The fight for a living wage is engaged. John Key, your honeymoon is over.