`Isn't that an oxymoron?' `No, just Shipley...'
`Isn't that an oxymoron?' `No, just Shipley...'
CONTENTS Editorial: Watch Out! It's 'Radical Conservatism'! The First day of the Fifth Month of the Year Speed-wobbles?? - Nah. News Web site of the Week
Editorial: Watch Out! It's 'Radical Conservatism'!
Humblest apologies for the lateness of this, but it is the season for sickness, and there've been difficulties with the posting - things that not even this Government can legislate against.
At a time when the left is steadily developing a new and cohesive meta-narrative (word for the week) for the role of the state as an actor in our political-economy, it would seem that the right is still failing to understand the salutary lesson that it was handed on the Twenty Seventh of November last year. Exhibit one must be Jenny Shipley's call to arms at a recent National Party Regional Conference. Admitting that her Party had "lost touch", Mrs. Shipley laid down the "radical-conservative" platform as the way forward towards victory in 2002 for National. The shots that the various News Networks' got of the bemused crowd in relation to this master plan were just priceless. It's also highly encouraging for Labour as all that 'Radical Conservatism' seems to mean is a re-packaging of the tired mantra that was so resoundingly rejected by New Zealanders last year. Whether National claim that their policies are "cool" rather than "efficient" is not going to them any less reprehensible than before!
Those of us on the left also had cause to pause, and reflect this week. Monday was May Day - the international day upon which we celebrate the advances that the International Labour movement has achieved on behalf of workers. The brutal fact of the matter is however, that many of these achievements have been rolled back in recent years. Things are looking up though - the restoration of ACC as a state monopoly, repeal of the ECA, and various other measures strongly signal that this Government has placed worker rights back on the agenda. There is still much to do though.
The First day of the Fifth Month of the Year
First, a little sentimentalism - the old Socialist ditty, and a beautifully poetic work - 'The Red Flag' (does anyone know what 'pelf' means??)
The people's flag is deepest red It shrouded oft our martyred dead And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold Their hearts' blood dyed to every fold
It waved above our infant might When all ahead seemed dark as night It witnessed many a deed and vow We must not change its colour now
It well recalls the triumphs past It gives the hope of peace at last The banner bright, the symbol plain Of human right and human gain
It suits today the meek and base Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place To cringe beneath the rich man's frown And haul that sacred emblem down
With heads uncovered swear we all To bare it onward till we fall Come dungeons dark or gallows grim This song shall be our parting hymn.
Chorus Then raise the scarlet standard high Beneath its fold we'll live and die Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer We'll keep the red flag flying here
It doesn't pull any punches, and may make some of us modern day softie-liberals feel a little uncomfortable. The songs quite brutal references to, dungeons, blood, and death were not however put in merely out of poetic license. The history of the workers movement, the legacy of which our Party carries forth, is one of incredible sacrifice and injustice. While we nationally recall the sacrifice made by heroes of the past on the 25th of April, less thought is given to the memory of workers who were persecuted fighting for basic human rights - rights that we still largely enjoy. This is the essence of May Day - a day of commemoration, and reflection. For if we do not reflect upon where we find ourselves now, there is little point in celebrating the achievements of those long gone.
I strongly urge readers to have a look at www.chicagomayday.com for a detailed account of the history of May Day. The first use of the First of May as a forum for highlighting the plight of workers occurred in 1886, when hundreds of thousands of workers from around the USA walked from their places of work, and demonstrated in favour of the institution of an eight-hour working day. The protests centered on Chicago, where a number of demonstrating workers fleeing a police line were shot, in what became known as the 'Haymarket Massacre'. In the aftermath of that first May Day, the protest leaders were rounded up on what were later generally accepted to be rigged charges - four of these men ended there lives at the end of a rope. The old saying that 'you can kill a man, but not an idea' proved correct in this case however, as by the turn of the Twentieth Century, most Chicago bosses relented to the idea of an eight-hour day.
In New Zealand, we have much to proud of on May Day. Starting in the 1890s, Progressive governments have often placed New Zealand at the head of the pack in terms of establishing decent working conditions, and procedures to fairly manage the conflict that is inherent in places of work. The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1894, which established an official industrial mediation process, and thus theoretically annulled brute force as a means for bosses to get their way, laid the foundation for many other achievements. The First Labour Government of course, entrenched the principle of a forty hour week in the workplace, and as such formally recognised that workers are not merely 'labour-units', but people to be seen as ends in themselves. Our National Awards System (abandoned in 1991), and Minimum Wage Legislation, in theory at least, has always ensured that workers and their families did not slip below the poverty line.
Punctuating our IR history however, have been a number of uglier episodes. Prime Minister Massey memorably used his 'Cossacks' (farmers on horseback) to brutishly acquiesce striking Port workers in 1913, while the 1951 waterfront dispute still burns in the mind of many an old Unionist as an example of the Labour Party letting down the working man through the neutral stance that Walter Nash took on the issue. More recently, we've swung about like Jenny Shipley under pressure. From Compulsory Unionism (outside of International Labour Organisation rules), to the tyranny of the Employment Contracts Act (also outside of ILO rules), workers in this country have been on a roller coaster ride that was not asked for.
They most certainly have not asked for the degradation of conditions that has had to be endured over the past twenty years or so. The ideal of a forty hour week is simply scoffed at by most now, while our grim tally of worker injuries and deaths in the workplace is quite shameful. Many people have once again become wage-serfs to miserable bosses who expect mentally un-balancing hours, for less and less pay every year, and a steady elimination of 'privileges' such as penal rates. Unfortunately though, it isn't a phenomenon that we can place solely at the feet of the ECA. A little known Commission of Inquiry back in 1989, for example, concluded that sweated labour was alive and well in New Zealand. One shudders to think how much worse the situation must now be.
But after a century of ups and downs, New Zealand workers had something to smile about this Mayday. The imminent repeal of the ECA, and its replacement with the eminently fairer ERA is to be a true watershed. This, combined with the re-socialisation of ACC, and a recent upgrade to the Minimum Wage, show that we do once again have a government prepared to protest the rights of workers. There is much still to do to do justice to the memory of those workers who sacrificed everything for fair conditions. Firstly, we must raise awareness about worker rights. The middle classes must have statistics about workplace deaths, take home pay, and job insecurity thrown in their faces to understand why Labour is moving so strongly in this area. We should aim to have thousands marching on May Day next year, not the couple of hundred of us who did this year. Further, the mountain of ignored research on workplace conditions that sits in our libraries and government departments must be dusted off, and considered. Then we can really think through the options: is it so crazy to consider the closing of shops on public holidays/the forty hour week/the abolition of the Youth wage...???? Plenty of other countries around the world don't think so, and we have a duty to those pioneers of labour rights to once again place such issues at the forefront of public consideration.
Speed-wobbles?? - Nah.
The media were back to there predictable best this week, sensationalising a number of minor events to make it look as if the government is on the verge of implosion. On a few occasions recently, Labour, the Alliance, and the Greens have publicly expressed differences of opinion on various issues:
- Matt Robson and Phil Goff have each expressed differing personal views as to the way that the justice system should operate.
- The Greens have expressed publicly, demands for the government to immediately scrap contracts with Rimu loggers on the West Coast.
- Willie Jackson and Trevor Mallard offered different accounts of the process that has led to the sale of the Broadcasting Spectrum.
The media have acted with astonishment that these disagreements have occurred, and have outrageously sensationalised the extent to which they demonstrate any dangerous friction within the coalition, and between the government and the Greens. Quite possibly, it's simply because nine years of rule by the dull grey men of National has meant that government members with interesting personal opinions is something of a novelty. Whatever, it's quite ridiculous for anyone to think that MPs from three different parties are going to agree on everything, or that there is indeed anything wrong with this.
In fact, the coalition agreement that founded this government quite specifically allows for differences between the two parties to be formally expressed. Each went to the country with a different set of policies, and it would be simplistic and ultimately catastrophic management to pretend that the coalition is a monolithic organisation with no internal divergences of opinion. It was such an underlying approach that destroyed the National/New Zealand First coalition. The above disagreements do not even constitute formal policy divergences, and instead simply represent personal viewpoints. The Greens, in particular, being a party outside of the government have every right to disagree with the governments' approach to the West Coast logging issue. In short, we should get used to it - and provided all parties deal in good faith, and that policy, once made, is adhered to, we should simply accept such minor disagreements as an indication that we have a large number of bright, passionate people sitting on the government benches.
Wyatt Creech this week had his brain removed by aliens, and replaced by one from a Young Labour Activist. Quite incredibly, he suggested that National may well support Universal Living Allowances for students. The aliens later gave it back to him, claiming that it was defective and abnormally small.
The Prime Minister returned from her trip to Britain and Turkey, where she celebrated ANZAC day with a number of young New Zealanders.
Jenny Shipley boldly asserted the doctrine of 'Radical Conservatism' at a National Party Regional conference. Dressed in an expensive designer jacket, speaking to the greyest, most conservative audience ever to have gathered in one place since the 1958 Motueka 'grey-conservative club' AGM, she boldly outlined National's plan to win the next election to the tune of 'Wild Thing'. The crowd was about as impressed as we are.
In a week in which Banks reported record profits, New Zealanders were told that they would face increasing bank charges to cover 'technology costs'. ACT attacked Jim Anderton's proposed people bank, suggesting that New Zealanders were opposed to the idea of state intervention in the sector.
The crisis in Zimbabwe remains unresolved, although occupation leaders have pledged to end violence against farm owners and workers. Commonwealth Secretary General and former National Deputy Leader Don McKinnon spent a long time saying very little about the issue.
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