If politics is about perception, the perception is that the country's going to hell in a trade union hand basket.

Parliament's bear pit was on fire yesterday with the booming Gerry Brownlee lambasting the Government for returning New Zealand to cloth cap control by the unions with Air New Zealand engineers threatening to down tools for three days from December 21 (the strike threat was removed late last night).

National riled the Government saying there are now more strikes than there have been since Jacinda Ardern was at primary school.


Ardern spat back that there's currently more on offer on the teachers' bargaining table than there had been during National's entire nine years in office.

It's true when Ardern was at primary school 30 years ago the trade union movement was all powerful and battling a government that made the recent changes to workplace law look like a Sunday school picnic.

The Lange Government was hands-on with the unions with Rogergnome Richard Prebble literally sitting up all night on occasion with the Federation of Labour's President Jim Knox trying to sort out an industrial dispute, like the Cook Strait ferries going on strike again on the eve of holidays.

Knox would emerge early in the morning, reeking of liquor, spitting into the microphone and slurring that the FOL wasn't going to be intimidated but nevertheless reaching an agreement.

The pro-market Government tinkered with the industrial relations system, cracking heads but failing to make any effective change.

But that all changed when the former Labour Minister in the Muldoon Government Jim Bolger became Prime Minister and savaged the trade union's power with the Employment Contracts Act, removing the unions' automatic and exclusive rights in the workplace.

The unions have never recovered, even when Bolger's hated act was abolished by Helen Clark's government and it was business as usual, with a capital B, through the John Key years.

Now the muscle is again being flexed and if Labour's feeling flustered, it's got itself to blame.


Changes to the way the party selected its leader was taken away from its MPs six years ago and handed over to the party's membership and its trade union affiliates who have 20 per cent of the vote, with caucus getting 40 and the rest going to paid-up card carriers.

Ardern wasn't selected under that system because the MPs are allowed to change a leader themselves within three months of an election.

Her Workplace Relations Minister, the hapless Iain Lees-Galloway, told the National Party grizzlies it wasn't his place to become involved in the Air New Zealand dispute but it didn't stop Ardern from having a word to the airline and to the union.

Let's hope they don't bite the hand that feeds them.