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Trade unionists selected as Alliance candidates

March 27 2005

Trade unionists selected as Alliance candidates

The Alliance has selected three trade unionists as its South Auckland candidates for this year’s General Election.

Alliance President and union organiser Jill Ovens will contest the Manukau East seat, union delegate Paul Protheroe will contest the Manurewa seat, and Len Richards, who is studying working class culture for his PhD, will contest the Mangere seat.

Ms Ovens, who represents low-paid workers in her union work as a senior organiser, says it is time working people had a share in the much heralded economic prosperity.

“Economists talk about increases in productivity, but these have come on the backs of workers. The constant restructuring of the past 21 years has meant only that workers have to work harder and work longer hours to make ends meet.”

She says unemployment may have dropped, but far too many jobs are part-time or casual, and the gap between rich and poor has widened significantly.

“It is time that we invested in people and services so that all New Zealanders have an equal chance to realise their potential and enjoy a decent quality of life. It is not acceptable that one in three New Zealand children live in poverty, that young people start their adult lives saddled with student debt, and that elderly people go without heating because they can not afford to pay their electric bills.”

Ms Ovens stood for the Auckland Energy Consumers Trust on the PowerLynk ticket to try to stop the sale of Vector shares. She opposes privatisation of electricity generation and supply because it leads to companies operating in the interests of shareholders, rather than consumers.

Mr Richards taught at Nga Tapuwae College for 18 years and was active in the PPTA (Post Primary Teachers Association). During these years, he used to sell political newspapers outside the Otahuhu Railway Workshops and through his connection with the railway workers, he became interested in how they organised themselves.

“The struggle of workers for control over their lives begins in their workplace. My research has shown that the workers exercised a large amount of control, both informally and through their unions, despite their managers.”

He says this highlights the need for workplaces to be organised along democratic lines.

Mr Richards, who has previously stood in successive elections for the NLP (New Labour Party) and the Alliance in Mangere, is the Alliance housing spokesperson. He says there is a big problem in South Auckland with decent, affordable housing.

“A recent study showed that more than one-third of Aucklanders in rental accommodation pay more than 40% of their income on housing. By international standards, this means they are living beyond their means if they are on a low income. This is the reality for thousands of South Auckland families and it is a matter of political choice – not necessity.”

Mr Richards says property owners are able to offset losses against taxes, as well as benefiting from untaxed capital gains. At the same time, $380 a week from a property that cost $170,000 in the working class areas of South Auckland is a substantial return on investment.

“We think such rents are exploitive of the poor and should be capped.”
He says there needs to be a radical increase in the number of State houses built, as well as assistance for first home buyers, rent controls and a minimum income that provides enough for people to live on.

Mr Protheroe is an Engineers Union (EPMU) senior delegate and site chairperson at the mail centre where he has worked for more than 20 years. He has been involved in Collective Agreement negotiations with NZ Post hierarchy at least five times. He is also on the management board for the Otara Union Medical Centre and the Mt Roskill Union/Community Medical Centre.

A foundation member of the Alliance, Mr Protheroe says the Alliance is the only political Party to the Left of Labour representing the working class poor, including those with jobs, students and those on benefits.

“We will be campaigning for unity of the working class, rather than dividing those with jobs against beneficiaries, or Pakeha against Maori. We oppose the exclusion of thousands of people from decent jobs, affordable housing, quality health services and education opportunities,” he says.

The Alliance will be putting forward a Party list and standing 12 candidates in selected working class seats in the major centres. The Party says it can reach the 5% threshold necessary to represent its constituency and fight for its policies in Parliament.


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