Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Hobbit folk grovel to feudal movie lords

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Foolish film fans bash actors' union on the day set aside to mark the proud history of workers' rights. Photo / Getty Images
Foolish film fans bash actors' union on the day set aside to mark the proud history of workers' rights. Photo / Getty Images

Not so long ago, the rest of the country guffawed at Wellington planning to rename itself Wellywood.

Now the whole country seems to have taken leave of its senses, demanding we rename New Zealand "Hobbiton" and elevate the Gnome of the Wairarapa, Sir Peter Jackson, to be our Lord and Master. Have we no sense of shame, or of the ridiculous?

On Monday, Samuel Parnell, the father of the eight-hour day, would have turned in his grave at the way the day set aside in his memory was desecrated. Up and down the land, crowds marched and rallied to pledge to be servile to a Hollywood movie conglomerate.

Down with the evil actors for asking for another plate of soup, they chanted. Off with the heads of the dastardly Aussie manipulators. The union leaders were simple womenfolk who should be back in the kitchen where they belong.

Parnell, a London carpenter, arrived in Wellington in 1840, in the same week the Treaty of Waitangi was being signed. A fellow passenger on the ship out, George Hunter, asked him to build him a store. Parnell told him there were 24 hours in the day - eight for work, eight for sleep and eight for recreation. Those were his conditions. So, the eight-hour working day dream was born.

On October 28, 1890, to mark the 50th anniversary of European settlement and the first birthday of the Maritime Council, the workers organisation, Labour Day was marked officially with marches in the main centres.

It was to celebrate the eight-hour working day and publicise workers' rights. Ten years later it became a statutory holiday with huge parades, picnics and sports days.

Sadly, the marchers on Monday know more about the fantasy lives of elves and goblins, and of the fabulous wealth of Sir Peter, than they do of the history of New Zealand. Few would have known how they came to have the public holiday that freed them for the day to indulge in their union-bashing activities.

So, on the 110th anniversary of a public holiday marking New Zealand's proud leadership in workers' rights, news beamed around the world of a nation rising up to plead with a movie magnate to forgive us for having a few wayward troublemakers in our midst with the temerity to be acting in the spirit of Parnell.

There they were, saying, "Tell us how long to grow our elven beards, and how hard to pull our forelocks, Sir, and we will do it. Straight after we burn those evil witches, Robyn Malcolm, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Helen Kelly, in the public square for disturbing the tranquillity of our feudal land."

Workers' rights have taken a battering over the past 30 years from successive governments, but every employee in the land should be concerned at the hammering the actors have got for daring to ask for meaningful negotiations.

We might have thought the television current affairs gurus would have brought a certain gravitas to the issues. But Paul Holmes on state television's so-called flagship current affairs show, Q and A, and John Campbell on TV3 a day or two before, appeared to have been issued super-strength hysteria pills before going on air.

Campbell beamed in live from a Hobbit doll's house he had to crouch to fit inside, gasping at every tearful word spluttered by the incandescent Lord of Hobbit, Sir Peter.

Holmes, sweat pouring down his face, making exasperated stage sighs to Camera 3, was so beside himself that the guilty womenfolk in the dock hardly had a chance to stammer out an uninterrupted word before he donned the black cap and dispatched them back to the kitchen.

I say womenfolk, because throughout the whole battle, the patronising sexism aimed at the union side - nice gals, but out of their depth, not up to it, dupes of Aussie svengalis - has been shameful.

Yesterday, South Pacific Pictures chief executive John Barnett was at it again: Robyn Malcolm was a "terrific actress" but the union had let her and Jennifer Ward-Lealand down. "They should not have let her go out and speak." Pardon? Who better than a terrific actor to speak on behalf of actors seeking a decent employment contract?

Amid the histrionics, it was a relief to read University of Otago employment law specialist Paul Roth, in Monday's Herald, warning what a Third-World country the Hobbit saga was showing us up to be.

He was reacting to Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee's warning to unionists that law changes might be in order.

Rather than being a First-World country, New Zealand was "teetering" on Third-World status, prepared to "basically lie back and prostitute ourselves to get more employment into this country". He complained that a movie-maker and money were driving possible law change, not principle or justice.

The Hobbit is about a bunch of peasants living simple feudal lives. The way we're behaving, where else but New Zealand could it be filmed?

- NZ Herald

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