Len Brown campaigned to be the first Mayor of the Auckland super-city with the slogan, that he would be the Mayor for all of Auckland.
Mayor Brown has come under huge pressure from his party, his donors and his activist supporters to abandon his campaign pledge, and to intervene in the Ports of Auckland dispute. It is to his credit that he has resisted putting the interests of the Labour Party above the interests of Auckland.
Increasingly shrill commentators on left-wing blogs are declaring that Len Brown has no chance of winning the Mayoral election next year, because he has refused to intervene to save the Maritime Union from their own stupidity. I totally disagree. In fact I argue it is the other way around. If Len Brown had done what his Labour colleagues had urged him to do, then he would have doomed his chances of re-election. He would have painted himself into a corner as a Mayor who puts the interests of his supporters and donors ahead of the best interests of the city.
There are a number of reasons why it would be dumb politics for the Mayor to try and intervene. The first is that the Mayor gets only one vote on the Auckland Council. Unless Mayor Brown was certain his Council would back his stand, he could face total humiliation by taking the side of the Maritime Union, and having the Council declare support for the Ports of Auckland Directors. The Mayor is not an Executive Mayor who can unilaterally direct Council Controlled Organisations.
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Next consider what would happen if the Mayor did manage to successfully intervene and cause the Ports of Auckland management co capitulate to the Maritime Union. I imagine you would have the entire Board of Directors of POAL resign, along with the CEO. You could even have the Board of Directors of Auckland Council Investments Ltd (the owner of POAL) resign. While Mayor Brown is trying to fill those vacancies, more and more customers of POAL will be moving their business to the Port of Tauranga. Brown would be painted as sabotaging Auckland, and even New Zealand considering the Productivity Commission has calculated that New Zealand's annual trade could be boosted by $1.25b a year if transport costs can be reduced 10 per cent.
It is natural for people to expect that a Mayor who is a Labour Party member to be supportive of unions, just as people expect that a Mayor who is a National Party member to be supportive of business. However this should not be regarded as blind loyalty, regardless of the merits of a particular situation.
The Maritime Union is not a poster boy for modern unionism. During the contract negotiations they have filed a total of 12 strike notices. During their absence from the port, productivity has increased 25%. The desire from the Port for stevedores who get paid for 43 hours to work 43 hours, not 28 hours is not unreasonable. The fact that the total remuneration for a stevedore who works 28 hours is $91,000 has not been lost on the public also. This is not in the same category as a union trying to get workers on the minimum wage an extra dollar an hour.
If Len Brown did intervene as his supporters are demanding, he would only please a numerically insignificant but noisy group of activists. He would alienate the majority of Aucklanders who would not welcome the Mayor exporting jobs in Auckland to Tauranga. The political beneficiary of such a move would be Cr Cameron Brewer, who has not ruled out standing for Mayor next year.
It is possible that the left will stand a rival left-wing candidate against Len Brown, but I think this is impassioned rhetoric rather than sensible strategy. A rival candidate would help Cr Brewer become Mayor. It is hard to see how the former CEO of the Newmarket Business Association would be more docile towards the Maritime Union, than Mayor Brown.
Len Brown got elected on a slogan of being the Mayor for all of Auckland. The Labour Party shouldn't complain that he is taking that slogan seriously and putting the interests of Auckland ahead of the interests of the Labour Party affiliated Maritime Union. He should be congratulated for his stance.
*David Farrar is a centre-right blogger and affiliated with the National Party. A disclosure statement on his political views can be found here.