Archive for April, 2008

Industrial unrest: Chicken Little?

April 26, 2008

Today’s SST includes a warning from Engineers Union Secretary Andrew Little of industrial action over wages claims: “I think that’s without doubt. The scale of it I couldn’t predict, but I’m detecting among our members a real determination and good on them.”

Coincidentally, Statistics NZ released the latest statistics on industrial action (lockouts included) last Tuesday: “Twenty-nine work stoppages ended in the December 2007 year… This compares with 42 stoppages for the December 2006 year. Stoppages in the December 2007 year involved 3,980 employees, and losses of 11,035 person-days of work and $1.9 million in wages and salaries. In comparison, the 42 stoppages in the December 2006 year involved 10,079 employees, and losses of 27,983 person-days of work and an estimated $5.2 million in wages and salaries.”

Why the gap between Little’s warning and reality? Why, over the 7 1/2 years that the Employment Relations Act 2000 has been in force — during which we’ve seen an unprecedented tightening of the labour market — has there been so little industrial disruption? Since 2000, stoppages have ranged between 53 and 29 annually, well down from the peak of 567 in 1977.

After all, remember the doomsayers on the right, led by Prebble predicting unionist “jackboots” in our workplaces? Remember the desperate attempts of Wayne Mapp, National’s hapless IR spokesperson, to seize any hint of increased industrial action to prove that the sky was falling on our heads?

It seems that, with wage increases at or around the rate of inflation, NZ workers have been happy enough at work (the lower paid excepted). In a tight labour market, unhappy workers or those looking to improve their pay and conditions, have been able to switch jobs relatively easily.

There is very real pressure on the lower paid, on whom the price rises on household necessities impact greatest. But they were left without union representation in the first months of the Employment Contracts Act, and with 90% or so still left to their own devices, there’s not much likelihood of industrial action there. (Matt McCarten’s Unite aside.)

We are entering a new era for the ERA; it has never been tested on rough roads before. My pick is that industrial disputation will increase, and may very well surpass the 53 stoppages recorded in 2005. But the sky won’t fall on our heads. Andrew Little might finish up looking like Chicken Little.

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ANZAC Day: The very essence of NZ?

April 25, 2008

Radio NZ news this morning played a speaker at a dawn ANZAC ceremony saying that ANZAC day represents “the spirit and the very essence” of New Zealand, or similar.

Apparently, a lot of people agree. In a poll of 501 NZers reported yesterday, 38 per cent responded positively when asked, “Although New Zealand’s official ‘National Day’ is Waitangi Day, do you feel that Anzac Day would be a more appropriate choice?

I am all for honouring those who lost their lives or their limbs, or endured the horror of war, in their country’s service. But a brief pause for reflection is apposite.

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How not to win in the USA: Tell the truth

April 20, 2008

Paul Buchanan’s excellent commentary on Obama’s “guns & religion” statement can be read at Scoop.

Right now, Buchanan has a little spare time and can turn his mind to such things. I am looking forward to his return to Auckland University in the near future; the justification not to reinstate was the weakest part of a decision that was somewhat patchy.

Buchanan makes the point that Obama’s cardinal sin was to tell the truth about what’s really happening to a large part of the American people. Obama compounded his sin by making the comments to a group of rich/super rich Angelinos, a more unfortunate choice in the current climate being hard to think of.

My own experience of the USA — extended visits over many years to a number of states — bears out Paul’s points…

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Not a vintage year for elections

April 14, 2008

Hey, I find I have a blog page all of my own. Although the “market” is way overcrowded, I’m tired of not being able to start the thread, so here goes.

Below I have extracted a response on kiwiblog by me to a question from one of the more thoughtful — there are a few — of the residents. He asked:

“The left seem so hate filled and desperate, Cullen’s recent comments and the uncalled for personal attacks (slippery John etc) are so unnecessary, why is it that the left are acting this way?”

This year’s shaping up as an unsavoury campaign, and it saddens me. Some thoughts…

It won’t be anywhere as near as hate-filled and vicious as 1975, when the full arsenal of rascist and anti-communist fear-mongering was deployed against a decent, unsuspecting crowd of old school politicians — Bill Rowling had great personal integrity — by a real swine. But it’s little solace to know that things have been worse.

I’m not about to try and defend the EFA (you may have noticed), which I have some doubts about as a practical measure. But I can certainly understand the concerns that underlie it. I’m sorry, you can dismiss “the Hollow Men” all you like, but I haven’t seen anybody being sued for defamation. Plenty of threats, I understand, from attack lawyers. If you want to see a real example of a government trying to con its way into power with lies and secret money with lots of strings attached, you only have to look as far back as 2005.

Finally, I would note that, while the Democrats’ hands are far from clean, it is the Republican Party in the US that [edit: since Nixon] has been pioneering the dirtiest, most unscrupulous campaigning techniques seen since, er, the McCarthy era. That evil genius Karl Rove has a lot to answer for. Now, which party in NZ has the links with the Republicans?

You have to understand that if there is fear on my side of the fence, it is fear that people on your side will stoop to use Rovian tactics to which they will not be able to respond. Just like 1975 in NZ, recent Australian elections (babies overboard?), and recent US elections, to list just a few of the more salient examples.