Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: March 1

Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker
Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker

Is it 'class war'? New Zealand is now experiencing the highest level of industrial action for many years, with port, freezing and rest-home workers all taking action. The question is what, if anything, should politicians do to try and resolve these disputes?

That question will be weighing on Len Brown most heavily, as his support base on the left becomes increasingly impatient with his passive approach to the ports dispute and the company his council owns. Greg Presland has some advice about What Len Brown should do about the POAL dispute. He looks in detail at what options Brown and councilors have to put pressure on their port company and concludes that removing directors, or threatening to do so, is the only direct lever they have. He suggests progressive Auckland councilors should try to pass a resolution urging a return to mediation and good-faith bargaining. Yesterday Labour MP Phil Twyford called for Brown to take action and today Hone Harawira is calling for the Labour, NZ First and the Greens leaders to join him in meeting the mayor on the issue.

Chris Trotter looks at both the AFFCO and ports dispute and concludes that: 'It's class war - pure and simple. He calls the disputes 'a naked bid for unbridled employer power', providing a Marxist-style analysis of struggles over industrial relations law. He warns employers that they are over-reaching themselves in their attempts to crush workers rights and livelihoods, and that the ultimate response will be workers eventually seeking to more than reverse this balance of power. Not that you will read about it in the media, according to Trotter - he claims that middle-class journalists won't call it like it is, and that they implicitly accept the employer's assumption that workers cannot own and defend their jobs and conditions. See also, Denise Roche's Frogblog post, Employer militancy is the new black.

If it is indeed class war, then no one should have any doubt whose side Cameron Slater is on. In his Whaleoil blog post, 61 years, Slater hails the unloading of a container ship with 100% non-union labour as a 'watershed'. Ports CEO Tony Gibson is also trumpeting the unloading of the Maersk Aberdeen as proof the port can minimise delays and losses due to the strike. Meanwhile, opposition parties are accusing the Government of taking sides and encouraging employers in their new hard-line actions. But John Key denies any responsibility and says changes to industrial relations legislation will be limited to what was flagged at the election. For more on this, see: Government accused of encouraging employer militancy. And for more on all the disputes, see William Mace's Meatworkers fight for conditions and Danya Levy's MPs, residents join aged care workers' strike.

There are very different aspects of the 'class war' going on in terms of the proposed shakeup of Mfat, but there's unlikely to be a strike or lockout of the diplomats. Instead the ministry staff are making noises about resigning over the cuts that will make their postings less attractive - see Tracy Watkins' Exodus threat over proposed MFAT cuts. She says that diplomatic allowances 'can swell the size of a foreign-based diplomat's pay packet to as much as $500,000'. This is a bit of a problem for Labour, as the workers that Phil Goff is seeking to defend are not exactly at subsistence levels and conditions. Jane Clifton expands on this point in her report on yesterday in Parliament ('Phil Goff was sawing a violin for the pending heavy job losses among Foreign Affairs officials while at the same time deploring the extravagant spending plans those same officials had dreamed up to optimise their personal comforts while abroad').
Revelations about lavish spending at Mfat won't actually hurt the government as it looks to slash costs in the department. Duncan Garner quotes 'one senior Government Minister' as saying 'the gold plated and lavish tastes of these self important bureaucrats are finally coming to an end'.

Brian Fallow continues to attack John Key over his claim that there are plenty of jobs for beneficiaries forced to seek work. His parting shot is 'In the end there is no substitute for a brisk rate of job creation from a strongly growing economy. With that, welfare reform is largely redundant. Without it, it is futile'.

Peter Dunne's crucial vote required to pass asset sales legislation will have the Government listening very carefully to his concerns. The latest is the possibility that individual assets (such as stand-alone power stations) could be hocked off if there was a buck to be made and it was in the interest of the minority private shareholders. Greens co-leader Russell Norman spelt out the possibility clearly, and Peter Dunne wants such an 'asset stripping' possibility to be prohibited under the legislation - listen to the Radio NZ story here. National will have to take note, as failure to implement the policy would be a major political humiliation. But it will be a challenge to address the political issues without scaring off private buyers.

Today's parliamentary competition revolves more than ever around allegations about political finance and corruption - with parties readily using these weapons as the most effective form of partisan debate - often without much merit. Personal attacks tend to serve as a substitute for debate about genuine policy differences - there is a general rule of thumb in which the smaller the policy differences are between political parties, the more they are likely to resort of what might be seen as aggressive personal politics. The latest example comes from Trevor Mallard in his Red Alert blog post, Mapp to Law Commission - Cronyism. Such allegations are condemned by partisans of both the right (David Farrar: More nastiness from Labour; and the left (Robert Winter: On Mr Mapp's appointment)

Perhaps a more valid attack on National can be made over its continued poor handling of the NZ On Air saga - see No Right Turn's Craig Foss lied to Parliament. Finally today, see Isaac Davison's: Auckland Council's Occupy bill lists spy firm payout and Duncan Garner's In defence of Bennett's welfare shakeup.

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

Read more by Bryce Edwards

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 17 Apr 2014 07:28:04 Processing Time: 970ms