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CTU President's speech to Green Party Conference


04 June 2002

CTU President's speech to Green Party Conference 2nd June 2002

It is my honour and pleasure to bring warm greetings from the Council of Trade Unions. As far as I am aware this is the first time the CTU has been invited to your conference and I appreciate the opportunity to have this dialogue with you.

Perhaps I should begin by telling you a little about who we are.

The Council of Trade Unions is the national organization of unions. With 33 affiliated unions representing nearly 300,000 union members we are the largest democratic organization in Aotearoa New Zealand

We are proud that workers as diverse as cleaners, university academics, nurses and doctors, port and railway workers, teachers, and many others

- from a spectrum of jobs and industries in the State sector and the private sector

„h and from increasingly diverse cultures and backgrounds

- come together in the union movement and work together on common strategies.

By organising and building union density we are building the strength and influence, both industrially and politically, to pursue the economic and social justice agendas we share.

We want to be part of a social movement unionism working with other organizations in the community to build a political constituency for social justice.

And we want to work with the Green Party, and the wider movement you belong to. We have a lot of common policies and objectives.

In fact one reason I was keen to come to your conference is to acknowledge the good working relationship we have developed with your MPs on a range of different issues over the past two and a half years.

It really started early in the term with the legislation to renationalise ACC. Sue Bradford proved to be a strong advocate for our common cause and we really appreciated that

The relationship continued with the Employment Relations Bill, through a very difficult period when business hysteria almost de-railed the Bill. Once again Sue¡¦s support for the Bill, and our amendments, never waivered.

That co-operation has continued with Green MPs, particularly Keith and Sue, and included the International Treaties Bill and the Anti-Terrorism Bill. There has also been co-operation staff level between CTU staff and Deb Moran and Roland Sapsford, on a whole lot of measures.

I know how much the Rail & Maritime Union has welcomed your support, and common advocacy for the ¡§Take Back the Track¡¨ campaign and the promotion of public rail transport.

So I want to take the opportunity to say thank you to the Green MPs in Parliament for your support on the many issues where we share common objectives.

It has been MMP in action in the way that was intended, and of course who knows more about that than Rod Donald who played such a major role in the campaign to get MMP established in our electoral system.

The CTU strongly supported that campaign because we share your view that MMP is more democratic. We understand what it is like to be marginalized and demonized by elected minority dictatorships which some Governments of the last 20 years have been.

Union rights are democratic rights. The rights to organize in unions, to bargain collectively, and to organize politically are human rights guaranteed by international law. But their recognition and implementation are dependant upon democratic Government.

When union rights are threatened, as they were during the 1990s, democracy itself is threatened.

So we appreciate the support which the Green Party provided in Parliament to ensure that the Employment Contracts Act was consigned to the dustbin of history, and replaced with the Employment Relations Act which recognizes those important international human rights.

One of the key union values is loyalty. We remember those who supported us. We acknowledge the crucial support which the Green party has provided in advancing the political agenda for working people. Rebuilding ACC, the ERA, Paid Parental leave and minimum wage legislation, the Social Security Amendment, and many others.

We remember when MPs come and support us on picket lines ¡V as Keith and Sue have done, and as I remember Jeanette did very early one morning at Paeroa in 1993 after driving for an hour to get there.

We want that co-operative relationship to continue.

As we face another General Election the stakes are high. And, despite public opinion polls, we take nothing for granted

The 1990s were a bitter experience we are determined not to repeat.

In 1990 we had Jim Bolger talking about ¡§the Decent Society¡¨. This year we have Bill English as pretender to the middle ground.

In 1990 Jim Bolger was, as we all found to our cost, obscuring the most extreme right political agenda in New Zealand history.

Ruth Richardson¡¦s ¡§mother of all budgets¡¨ plunged NZ into a recession from which we took years to recover.

We saw massive tax cuts which deprived the Government of necessary revenue for health, education, and social development.

Well Ruth is gone but Don Brash is back.

Look at his speech to the North Shore Business leaders on Friday:

- tax cuts for the rich
- cuts to the minimum wage
- abolition of school zoning
- privatization of the public education system
- time limited social welfare benefits

and to that you can add, from his Knowledge Wave Conference speech, an increase in the eligibility age for N Z superannuation.

That sits comfortably with the announced National Party economic policy¡K¡Kand with the policies of the ACT Party!

We have been told that a National Government wouldn¡¦t repeal the Employment Relations Act ¡K..¡K but it is clear from their policy statement that they would disembowel it¡Kdespite the widely acknowledged success of the Act!

What they are planning is an ECA Mark 2 in drag.

And that is just the National Party policy¡K¡K without the demands from ACT which will have to be agreed to in any Coalition deal. Will Richard Prebble insist on being Labour Minister or Finance Minister?

It is becoming increasingly clear that National has chosen to pick up where it left off in the 1990s.

The CTU does not seek out conflict but I can assure you that I will do everything I can to lead the CTU unions, and the quarter of a million union members we represent, to take every action possible to prevent the return of another Employment Contracts Act. Working people in this country do not want a return to the 1990s.

The CTU wants to continue the work on the minimum code of employment rights.

With Green support we are working on some really important improvements to the social wage.

The increases in the minimum wage and paid parental leave are a tremendous step forward in workplace equity.

The upgrading of the Holidays Act is in the pipeline and we can look forward to extra pay for working public holidays, improved sick, domestic and tangihanga/bereavement leave, and (perhaps) 4 weeks annual leave..

But we won¡¦t have truly left the ECA workplace behind until we have protections for vulnerable workers on contracting out, and family friendly workplace policies which ensure that there can be a reasonable balance between work and family life.

The CTU has also campaigned hard to support the toughening up of the workplace health and safety laws, and again I acknowledge the strong Green support.

With a work-related death toll higher than the road toll, and the OSH recorded workplace deaths this year the highest for a decade, I find it incredible that some employer spokespeople can go before the Select Committee and say that ¡§workplaces are safe enough¡¨.

We want to continue to work with you to improve our national public fund accident compensation scheme.

Thanks to Sue Bradford¡¦s amendment an Advisory Committee on Gradual Process and occupational disease is being established.

We all know the increased risk resulting from the hugely increased exposure to toxic substances in modern workplaces ¡V and more broadly in society.

And we all know that about 400 people a year already die from work-related disease.

The work of the Committee is very important.

Why National is re-committing itself to once again throw injured people to the mercies of private insurance companies is beyond comprehension.

Didn¡¦t they notice that one of the promoters of ACC privatization in 1998, HIH Insurance went bust last year in one of the biggest financial scandals in Australian history?

Private insurance premiums are sky-rocketing worldwide; ACC re-nationalisation saved New Zealand from that.

We want to continue to work with you on other aspects of our complementary agendas:

- Promoting environmentally sustainable economic growth to ensure full employment. Growing the number of higher skill, higher paid jobs is a priority for us.

- Promoting triple bottom line corporate accountability and reporting

- Campaigning to change the international economic order and trading rules ¡Vthe current model of globalisation ¡V so that there is a fair distribution of natural and social resources for all people on our planet

- Building more democratic, creative and safer workplaces where the untapped innovation and potential of workers can be unleashed.

- And, finally, we want to continue to work with you on social policies which provide, as a human right, the social environment, housing, health, and education that give everyone a real opportunity to succeed.

All of this work must continue.

The past few weeks have seen some very clear policy differences emerging between the left and the right in New Zealand politics.

Despite suggestions sometimes made to the contrary, the CTU is not just a chorus for the Labour Party political act

We are a coalition of diverse interests with our own policies and objectives..

We have initiated a policy dialogue with the political parties of the left, including the Greens, and we will continue to assess the policies of all political parties as we move towards the election.

Which brings me to the public position which your party has taken on the GE issue.

Can I say first of all that I respect the principled stand you have taken.

The union movement was founded on the principles of collective action and social justice. The Labour Party was born out of the union movement, and its commitment to socialist principles and social justice transformed New Zealand from the late 1930,s; (although a reverse transformation took place when it was hijacked by the new right during the 4th Labour Government.)

Many of the current generation of union leaders, like yours, were involved in the ¡§movement politics¡¨ of the 1960¡¦s and 70¡¦s ---- the peace movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the environmental movement, the anti-apartheid movement.

It was members of my own union, the Harbour Workers Union, who refused to berth the ¡§USS Truxton¡¨ in Wellington in the 1970s or to work while it lay at anchor in our harbour.

So I think I understand the negotiating position your party has taken. Everyone who has been involved in union collective bargaining would understand that. I understand, too, the negotiating position which Helen Clark has adopted in response.

And I think you have been very fair and up front in signaling your position very clearly to all New Zealanders well in advance of the General Election.

You have focused us all on this vitally important issue. I think many of us, myself included, thought that the issue had been taken care of by the Royal Commission and the legislative measures following it ¡Vincluding the HSNO amendments. You have given us cause to reconsider.

My concern is the potential effect on our political landscape and the center left political constituency for Government.

Yes, this may be seen historically as the catalyst for a transformation of New Zealand politics ¡V and a watershed for the greening of New Zealand governance.

But it may also be seen historically as the catalyst for a political shift back to the right --- seeking a stability which centre left parties are seen as being unable to provide. So that is the worry I have as CTU President.

And don¡¦t get me wrong me wrong. GE is a vital issue for us all. It is an issue of concern to union members ¡Vwhatever their cultural background.

But politics is the process of compromise, and absolute positions rarely prevail. And compromise is always more difficult for left parties born out of principled beliefs.

My hope is that we can find and accommodation on the centre left; which will not only see the election of a centre left Government this year, but the re-establishment of a foundation for a political constituency, which will enable us to carry forward the policies we share, well into the future.

As we say in the union movement: unity is strength.


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