Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Two sides, one untold

There’s probably no more misunderstood—or completely “non-understood”—public issue in Auckland right now than the strike against the Ports of Auckland. I don’t know anyone who can say with any certainty what the dispute is about or what the issues are, and they certainly aren’t capable of having, much less expressing, an informed opinion. That includes me, by the way.

Into this void have stepped the rightwing who are attempting to frame the dispute as being one of three things, as I discussed back in January: First, and most frequently, they say it’s all the fault of the evil labour unions, “whose members, they declared, are without exception lazy, grossly overpaid, belligerent, selfish and myopic.”

Aucklanders may not know the real story, but they didn’t rally to this meme, so the rightwing next tried to blame it on Auckland Mayor Len Brown who apparently should’ve waved a magic wand and ended the dispute. He’s also their fall-back, blaming him for whatever they don’t like or think has gone “wrong”. In most cases, his real “fault” is simply being left of centre.

When that meme also failed to gain traction, they tried on a third meme: “The port’s problems would all disappear if it was privatised.” This is the rightwing’s true agenda, always has been, and everyone knows it.

However, missing from this dispute has been the viewpoint of the wharfies themselves. I’ve never seen their side of the dispute presented in the mainstream media: Neither the country’s leading newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, nor TVNZ News, which airs the dominant TV news programme, has reported much of anything about the wharfies’ side. Of the two, TVNZ has at least been more even-handed.

For example, the Herald reported that a Singapore-based ship had turned around after receiving a “threat” from the union. They said that the Post boss and the unions “traded claims and denials yesterday about where such pressure came from”, yet only TVNZ actually bothered to dig (Video—may not be viewable outside NZ) and found that the shipping company doesn't claim there had been a threat of a “blacklist”. The Port and its rightwing allies, of course, have a vested interest in portraying the union as violent and malevolent, which makes the Port’s claim that the mess hall and some barbecues were vandalised by union members extremely dubious. You won’t read that—or anything even remotely resembling critical analysis—on the pages of the Herald.

Enter the alternative media. The YouTube video above presents the wharfies’s side of the dispute—quite literally the first time I’ve ever seen it. The video is from the pressure group Save Our Port, which is fighting not just for the wharfies, but also to prevent the rightwing from selling off our port. I hope they succeed.

But it’s a sorry state of affairs when the only way to air alternative viewpoints on public issues is to step outside the mainstream media because they refuse to do their jobs or are prevented from doing them. The good news is that New Zealanders are a fair-minded lot, and inclined, more often than not, to be suspicious of anyone attacking ordinary working New Zealanders. In times like these, with an aggressive rightwing attacking ordinary, mainstream New Zealanders at every turn, that fair-mindedness will be needed.

In the case of this dispute, I’m not suggesting that the union is right on all points—I still simply don’t know all the facts. However, there are always two sides to disputes like this, and one has been largely untold. We should hear that other side, even if we have to go out of our way to find it.

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