Thursday 26 November 2009

Open Letter to John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand

26 November 2009

Kia ora Mr Key,

We've never met, but since I'm a longtime socialist and you're Minister for the Security Intelligence Service, you have undoubtedly read SIS reports about me and my fellow promoters of a more democratic, just and ecological society.

However, it's in your capacity as Prime Minister that I'm writing you this Open Letter.

Recently one of my friends (who I shall name Jason to protect his identity) was sacked from his job by a fairly new manager. The reason given was that Jason's job was supposedly "redundant". Yet another worker was hired just days before Jason was sacked to do essentially the same job which Jason had been doing for some years, earning praise from his previous manager.

Here's what I see as the core facts. The new manager is a bully. He set out to squash Jason who, having a mind of his own, was regarded as a threat. Meanwhile, the business owner instructed managers across the company to axe some jobs and cut all wages, regardless of employment agreements. That would allow the firm to keep on making healthy profits at a time of capitalist slump, at the expense of loyal staff, of course. The bully-manager took advantage of this directive from the top boss to knife Jason, opening the way for a lower-paid substitute to be taken on.

I'm guessing that, as Prime Minister, your reaction to what I'm saying may be two-fold. First, Jason could take a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority, as allowed under the Employment Relations Act. And second, you have important affairs of state to deal with, and cannot possibly involve yourself in the affairs of workers.

Well, Jason did attend a mediation session at the Employment Relations Authority. Here he ran up against a wall of weasel words from company managers, aided by a smooth and expensive lawyer whose speciality is getting bosses off the hook. They insisted Jason's sacking was a "genuine redundancy".

The mediator informed Jason that he could take the complaint further, to a hearing of the Employment Relations Authority, but in the event of losing he faced having to pay several thousand dollars towards the other side's legal costs. With Jason made poor by his sacking, how can he afford to take such a risk? So the legal winners look likely to be those with money on their side, regardless of the truth.

I readily admit that, under current legislation, you and your political colleagues could not get involved in this one particular case, even if you so wanted. I do believe, however, that at the heart of the affairs of state should be the affairs of workers, who together with their families compose the great majority of people living in New Zealand.

Right now there's a marvelous opportunity for you, as Prime Minister of New Zealand, to do something really practical to help workers help themselves. And to do so on an international stage.

You are attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad & Tobago which will discuss a democracy report from the Commonwealth's policy studies unit. This report notes that "the development of a democratic culture demands that democracy is practiced not only in political parties, but also in most other social, political, cultural and economic institutions, organisations and communities".

You see, the unjust sacking of Jason could not have happened if his "economic institution" had been a place where "democracy is practiced", to quote from the Commonwealth report. In any firm operating in a democratic manner, proposed sackings and other important issues would be decided by majority vote after all sides had been heard. Then it would be hard for some boss, acting like a dictator, to impose unjust decrees on the majority working at the firm.

So, Mr Key, I hope you will support the Commonwealth report's proposal to extend democracy to "economic institutions" and other areas of society where, at present, the great majority of people have absolutely no democracy.

And, when you return to New Zealand, I hope you will begin the process of passing this extension of democracy into law.

I do realise that, if you were to stand up strong for democracy, you would run into heavy flak from your old corporate mates. And from those states around the world which want to stop democracy from breaking out in the workplace in order to privilege the wealthy few who make most of their money from other people's labour.

However, Mr Key, you would get rapt support from Jason, and all his friends, and all workers under the thumb of their bosses, in fact the great majority of people in New Zealand and around the planet. You would become an international people's hero if you advocated democracy in the workplace, and passed a law to make it happen in New Zealand.

I hope you will reply in a meaningful way to my Open Letter. Even if you don't, I guess we will see how much of a democrat you are by what you say at the Commonwealth meeting and, more important, by what you do upon returning home.

Grant Morgan
021 2544 515

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