Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Corporate sadists free to drive workers into dirt

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CMP locked its Marton meat-factory workers out of their jobs until they agreed to cut their pay. Photo / APN
CMP locked its Marton meat-factory workers out of their jobs until they agreed to cut their pay. Photo / APN

There's something really unpleasant going on among some of our business elites. It's as if they hate their fellow New Zealanders - the ones who have to work for a living.

When I was young I'd run into old communists who would regale me about the evils of capitalism. They would warn me that our economic system was corrupt because it encouraged one human being to exploit another. It did seem wrong for someone with money, through inheritance or otherwise, to make money off another person without doing any work themselves.

But given they would offer totalitarian states such the Soviet Union or Mao's China as alternatives, I accepted that our system was a better default, despite its shortcomings.

However, these empires that at least, in rhetoric, were workers' states made our free-world capitalists share some of the wealth with the rest of society.

Many state concessions, such as a free compulsory education, free public health, decent public housing, legislated minimum living wages and universal welfare benefits and pensions, were a way to keep the populace from challenging the system. The bogeymen in Beijing and Moscow kept our capitalist system in check.

But after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes and the morphing of China to state capitalism, the constraints came off in the "free world". Whether it was Thatcherism, Reaganomics or Rogernomics, the result was the same.

Public assets were sold to multinationals for a pittance; business constraints were off; taxes were slashed for the wealthy; we got user-pay education and health; the boot went into the poor and deregulation of the labour market, with the subsequent drop in job security and income, became the norm.

But even that's not enough. Since the November election, many corporate bosses have taken off their gloves and put on their steel-cap boots. It seems many greedy shareholders in our country have an insatiable need for profits. If they can't screw their customers for more it seems their workforce will have to cough up by doing more work, over longer hours, for less money.

I wonder if there's a deliberate strategy by some boards to employ psychopaths as senior managers on huge incomes to screw their employees any way they can to meet unreasonable profit expectations. It's the only way I can explain how many giant corporations demonise their employees and are hell-bent on doing them over.

How else do you explain multinational CMP meat factory last October locking its Marton workers out of their jobs for weeks until they agreed to cut their pay and accept inferior work conditions? After that sordid victory, the Nelson-based Talley family followed suit last week and locked out 750 meat workers indefinitely until they capitulate and accept lesser wages and work conditions.

Then there's the multinational Oceania expecting its low-paid carers to accept 1 per cent a year extra wages and give up their overtime rates. Line these disputes alongside the debacle at the Ports of Auckland, where the company is trying to advertise for Aussies to come to New Zealand to work on the wharf. The going rate for Aussie workers is $47 an hour, according to their unions. Our wharfies get $27 an hour. Duh!

The Prime Minister asserts he wants to close the gap in wages with Australia. Who would have thought this could be achieved by asking Aussies to halve their pay and move here?

Of course, it's all nonsense. There's no plan to lift wages; it's the opposite. Screw the workers and drive wages down for short-term gain. The result will be that the skilled workforce will move offshore permanently. Employers will then whine they can't get good workers.

There's something deeply disturbing going on in the minds of the directors of these three corporations that think it's acceptable to starve their workers into submission.

Unless our more enlightened employers and politicians tell them to pull their heads in, the New Zealand we know is stuffed.

- Herald on Sunday

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