Drinnan says the Tan “row” has for some journalists brought to a head the tensions of belonging to a party-affiliated union. They ask, “can I be a unionist and not be caught up as a third party in a party election campaign?”
Fair enough. But implicit in the suggestion that journalists will “face criticism they are in an organisation that is on the frontline backing one party” seemed to be the idea that they might be better to leave the union. It is difficult to divorce such a suggestion from the centuries of struggle for the right to have and to belong to unions.
One important point that has been overlooked in the current debate over Tan is that unions are inherently political organisations. Always have been and, as long as the distribution of wealth is determined within a system which is itself shaped by the struggle between capital and labour, always will be.
By struggle I don’t mean the sort of class struggle that my grandfather experienced. But the northern EMA’s recent ads contesting law changes to ensure employers contribute to their employees’ kiwisaver savings serve as a perfect example of how the interests of employers and employees are not identical, and that both groups continue to pursue their interests through political forums as well as industrial ones.
A very good case can be made for exempting unions from the prohibitions on discrimination on political grounds. As well as their “industrial” work, they promote their members’ interests through the political process. Reflecting their inherently political nature, unions played the major role in forming the Labour Party in the first place, and some continue to maintain links.
Because some union officials see themselves as “fighting the good fight”, problems will arise such as those that Drinnan outlines, where an organiser likened the union to “a religion”. Chris Trotter started his post on the EPMU’s response to Tan with, “unions … have an atrocious record as employers.”
I recounted in a comment to Chris’s post that as a trade union official I once went out with my colleagues because we’d been lied to by our management. When I was introduced to Ken Douglas on the street a few days later as one of those who took this industrial action, I was promptly denounced as a “wanker.”
It’s all about being in the “vanguard of the proletariat”, I guess.
Yes, as Drinnan writes, the union does belong to its members, not the staff. Some union staff functionaries have trouble understanding this. They mean well, but they have lost touch with what unions are really about. They been sucked into the political system, and they start to believe the puff about how wonderful they are, just like many of the managers with whom they have to deal.
To come back to the issue Drinnan raises, Herald journalists are working for a large capitalist organisation that has never failed to take the side of capital in any showdown with labour. They can strive for objectivity, but they don’t get to decide policy.
I can’t see how being a member of a Labour-affiliated union need have any bearing on the “professionalism” with which journos work, even in an election campaign. Unions are large organisations, and it is widely recognised that their members hold a range of political views. I’d like to know who is “pillorying” journos for their union membership. It’s wrong-headed and anti-democratic.
Journalists forgo their right to collectively deal with their employer at their peril. But yes, a media column can ask that question without it being part of a right-wing conspiracy.