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At gunpoint, maybe?

6 January 2012 4 comments

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I recall the rise and rise of the Solidarity Free Trade Union movement in Poland in 1980, when Polish workers rose up against their communist government Overlords and said “enough!”. Workers wanted their own, independent,  trade unions – not the puppet organisations run by, and for, the Polish communist party.

It gained strength and became not just the first truly independent worker’s union in a communist state – but practically a grass-roots de facto Opposition to Poland’s one-party government.

In 1981,   the New Zealand Polish Association in Wellington; various local trade unions; and an organisation that I belonged to, organised one of the largest street marches – estimated to number up to ten thousand – in support of Solidarity.

Solidarity was hailed around the world.

Leaders in the West hailed Solidarity as peoples’ desire to be free and belong to whatever associations they wanted. The subtext, of course, was pointing out the irony that workers were protesting against their own supposedly workers-party, in a supposedly workers’ “socialist paradise”.

No wonder Western leaders of the likes of Reagan,  Thatcher, et al, supported the Solidarity movement – it was a “poke in the eye” for the Soviet Union and it’s Eastern European satellite  client-states. (Though I doubt that Western leaders had suddenly become over-night champions of workers’ rights.)

It seems therefore somewhat duplicitous that some folk now condemn free trade unions and want their activities curtailed, using  “whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter“,

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Really? Ex-National MP and mayoral aspirant, Christine Fletcher has called for the strike to be “resolved”, using “whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter“?!

Them is powerful words; “whatever action they need to take“.

I am reminded that the communist regime in Poland also attempted to employ “whatever action they needed” to crush the Solidarity Trade Union.

The communists – led by General Jaruzelski – declared martial law on December 13, 1981, which lasted until July 1983. Under cover of martial law, thousands of Polish activists (we would call them freedom fighters) were imprisoned. Up to 100 innocent people may have been killed in the crack-down, that was ruthless even by communist standards.

So when Ms Fletcher calls for the Auckland Port strike to be “resolved” using “whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter” – that statement makes me uneasy. She obviously has no real understanding what it takes to smash a  trade union.

Does Ms Fletcher want the Maritime Union disbanded? It’s bank account(s) frozen? It’s assets seized? It’s organisers arrested and thrown into prison?

I’m under no illusion that there are quasi-sociopathic extremists in this country – as around the world in every other society – who  would welcome living in a repressive, autocratic regime that would imprison trade unionists. (And possibly journalists, left-wing commentators and bloggers, judges, and anyone else who doesn’t tow the Party line. It’s called fascism.)

But I’m disappointed and saddened that Christine Fletcher is so mis-guided as to be espousing what amounts to a state crackdown on perfectly legal organisations, and their members exercising their democratic rights.

The same democratic rights, I might add, that eventually brought down the Polish government and started the domino-collapse of communism and the Soviet Empire.

I am even further saddened when I recall – and remind readers – that Ms Fletcher was  a principled politician who resigned as Minister in  September 1997, because she objected to the sale of  publicly-owned assets of the ARST (Auckland Regional Services Trust)  by the then, Bolger-led National government.

Whether or not Ms Fletcher supports the action of the Martime Union and the Ports of Auckland Board should be set aside. Democracy is, by necessity, a messy process.

Would we want it any other way?

Especially cosidering the alternatives? Perhaps we should ask the people of Syria.

When Ms Fletcher demands “whatever action they need to take to resolve this matter“, what, precisely, is she hinting but not actually putting into words?

At gunpoint, maybe?

Interestingly, the Maritime Union is asking for actually less than the Ports of Auckland Board is offering; 2.5% as opposed to the company’s 10%,

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The “sticking point” is the companies plan to casualise the workforce.

As commentator and blogger, Kjt said on The Standard,

Among other things, POAL want the advantages of a casual on call work force without having to pay for it. Not many people would want to be on 8 hours call 365 days of the year with only a certain number of hours guaranteed and no pay for being available. In Tauranga and Nelson casuals are free to take other work without penalty.”

No wonder the workers are fighting back  by strike action. Their jobs are on the line.

Now, is that an unreasonable thing to fight for?

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Messages of support for striking workers can be left on these Facebook pages

Facebook: Ports of Auckland

Facebook: Maritime Union

Additional

Wikipedia: Christine Fletcher

Wikipedia: Solidarnosc

Wikipedia: Martial Law in Poland

Facebook: NZ Maritime Union

Port bosses sensitive to show of union power

Matt McCarten: ‘Greedy wharfies’ tale hides ambitions for port

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Greed is Good? Part Deux

6 January 2012 8 comments

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Bryan Bruce’s eye-opening documentary, Inside NZ: Child Poverty,  was broadcast last year on TV3,  and finally brought out into the open what had only be barely acknowledged: New Zealand as a society was failing it’s children, especially in low-income families.

Radio New Zealand TV Reviewer, Simon Wilson, described the documentary as;  “Outstanding. The most significant piece of New Zealand Television in years” – for good reason.

Bruce’s  doco raised public awareness, for sure. But I think it’s done more than that. Along with the “Occupy Movement”, I think we are finally seeing a new realisation that the last 27 years in New Zealand has not produced the “trickle down” benefits.

When 150 Rich Listers increase their wealth by 20%; when tax cuts have to be funded by borrowing other peoples’ savings from overseas, and have benefitted mostly the top 10%; when the income/wealth gap continues to widen; when we have to sell the family “silverware” just to paint schools – something is seriously wrong with this picture.

New Zealanders may choose to overlook your documentary (I hope TV3 re-broadcasts it) , but they won’t be able to ignore the next message, and the next, and the next.

Eventually it will percolate into our collective psyches that the promises made of  by the New Right economists; politicians; and their fellow-travellers; of “trickle down” benefitting us all – has been a hoax. Or a scam. (Pick whichever word you prefer.)

The next message that our socio-economic values are terribly awry, will be the increasing flood of New Zealanders leaving for Australia.

The more I look at this phenomenon, the more I’m thinking that our brothers and sisters are not leaving (just) because of “higher wages”.

There’s more to it than that. There is a massive dislocation in effect. People have lost that sense of belonging to a community – and once that no longer exists, why not shoot through to richer pastures?

What’s to keep our children here?

The answer is; not much. Our children can’t even buy their own home in NZ anymore. Why? Because my generation (baby boomers) have bought up most of the available stock, using borrowed funds from offshore, which has pushed up prices and “locked in” ownership to my generation.

New Zealanders can turn all this around. But it means making decisions at the ballot box based on what is good for our country, rather than our own wallets. (John F Kennedy said it much more eloquently.) Until then, we will be the victims of our own selfishness and short-sightedness.

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Sourced from “Inside Child Poverty NZ”

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On his Facebook page, Inside Child Poverty, Bryan Bruce has started a Poll; Should we raise the retirement age by 1 year to pay for free school lunches to all school children?

The responses opposing raising the retirement age are not just unhelpful – they are indicative of the very nature of our society; our self-centredness; and how badly we have gone so far off the tracks.

Raising the retirement age by one year, to pay for free lunches? Absolutely!!And there are some very good reasons to do so.

  1. If we don’t have healthy children, we have no future (or not much of one). Because it is our children who pay for the retirement of the elderly. The connection is fairly simple.
  2. My generation, the “baby boomers”, have had it “sweet”. We had free education; free healthcare; and many other state-provided services.
  3. Then, after 1984, all that changed; “baby boomers” voted seven tax cuts for themselves; implemented User Pays in tertiary education, and elsewhere; sold off state assets that had provided many of these services; and succeeding generations made do with much less of what my generation enjoyed.
  4. The feeling I’m getting from the responses on Bruce’s FB page is that it is  becoming a generational  “resource war”  –  the aging baby boomers vs succeeding generations.
  5. Well, I can tell you now who will lose that “war”; the elderly. If we continue to deny the services that we ourselves enjoyed – expect to see the flood of migration to Australia turn into a torrent. We’ll be “killing the Golden Goose” for sure because it is the younger generations who will be the ones who support the elderly and greying Baby Boomers into their retirement.

Am I painting the picture clearly enough here?

The question, to me, is not whether we should be raising the retirement age by one year – we should be asking our children; is one year enough? Can we do more for you, our children?

Because as sure as sunrise follows night, if we don’t look after our children; if baby boomers continue to vote more and more resources for themselves – the result will be predictable. And I for one will not blame our young people for leaving this country for richer pastures.

If we don’t look after our children, why should they look after us?

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Additional Blog Entries

Greed is Good?

“Building better public services” – Really?

Further Reading

Greed of boomers led us to a total bust

Rich list shows rich getting richer

New Zealand’s wealth gap widens

Rolls Royce sales rocket as super-rich drive in style

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