Richard Prebble pours scorn on the Minister of Workplace Relations for employment reforms that will improve the wellbeing of the most vulnerable workers in New Zealand).
He pulls the old trick of saying (April 13, 2022) how the Minister is too young to remember the bad old days.
My personal recollections of the old days is different to that of Prebble.
I got an apprenticeship and I was able to get well-paid work and soon got myself set up in life, including a house. For someone of my background, this combination would be a lot harder in 2022. Young working-class New Zealanders have been sold out and let down.
The legacy of Prebble's time, Rogernomics, wrecked training and apprenticeships. It sacrificed a generation to unemployment. It drove down wages and conditions for a whole section of working people. Where did the money go? Straight to the top. If we are going to talk about facts, the gross inequality that is now part of New Zealand life should be acknowledged.
Today, many workers outside unions just get told to take it or leave it.
The majority of working families get subsidised by the Government because they do not earn enough to sustain a decent standard of living.
This doesn't even consider how beneficiaries are doing. They are basically seen as sub-human by the political right wing.
If we look around the world, we should compare ourselves with the economic indicators of European and Scandinavian nations where unions have a central role in decision-making. How are they doing on social cohesion, on job security, on wages, on hours of work?
Unions are the legitimate expression of the interests of workers and employees. Prebble simply wants a system where the interests of capital and employers have no constraints. It creates an environment where reasonable employers can be outcompeted on labour costs by the most aggressive, even predatory employers.
Prebble neglects to mention New Zealand's abysmal health and safety record, or the workers who never returned home to their families because the value of their lives was not a feature of the balance sheet.
The policies advocated by Prebble and his allies came at a cost to workers. It has been unions, not employers, who have led the campaign for better health and safety outcomes and it is the union movement that holds both Government and industry to account for healthy and safe workplaces.
We hear a lot about productivity. New Zealand is not a productive economy because we were converted to a low-wage economy by right-wing policies. Why do it better or invest when you can cream profits off a compliant, low-wage workforce?
The irony of productivity is, without organised labour, the benefits simply accrue to the shareholders, and those workers being productive don't see the benefit.
The wealthy class of Prebble's generation has accumulated a vast quantity of unearned income through capital gains. How productive is an economy which bases itself around buying and selling old houses?
Our economy now operates through the calculated and deliberate exploitation of underpaid workers in insecure and casualised jobs, in sectors including forestry, agriculture, ports, retail and age care. Without the contribution of these workers, the glamorous lifestyles of others would not exist.
Prebble is completely out of touch with the reality of work for a new generation of working-class people.
His cluelessness is revealed when he uses the current high wages paid to a few kiwifruit pickers as an example of how great things are.
Most of the time these workers are poorly paid. Nothing is said about what they do in the off-season. Casual workers have similar issues. This insecurity has eaten away at the social structure of New Zealand and is responsible for many of the social problems we have today.
We remember leaders who made a difference for the better. Some of the names we remember are Michael J Savage and Norman Kirk.
It is safe to say working-class New Zealanders will not remember Richard Prebble in the same way. He and his allies' legacy was the imposition of undemocratic and harmful policies. The ideology of neoliberal capitalism has been a failure: economically, socially, environmentally – and morally.
The world is changing. People do not want to exist in a world where only the interests of the wealthy and powerful get promoted.
We look forward to more progressive policies from Minister of Workplace Relations Michael Wood. After all, his generation experienced the failures of deregulation and hard-right policies. It is good to see values of fairness and social responsibility coming through again to repair the damage of that era.
• Craig Harrison is National Secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand