Friday, April 28, 2017

Workers deserve better

Today was International Workers Memorial Day, a day to commemorate the workers killed or injured at work. The day was observed here in New Zealand, too, of course, in the midst of a TV ad campaign with ad above in heavy rotation. There has never been a better time for workers to demand better treatment.

In New Zealand, workers have fared increasingly worse since the neoliberal “reforms” of the 1980s/90s, many of which set the stage for the economic inequality New Zealand struggles with today. Recently, former National Party Prime Minister Jim Bolger expressed regret at some of what neoliberalism wrought, particularly its catastrophic effect on unions. Bolger was prime minister when I arrived in New Zealand, and their Employment Contracts Act was a radical departure for me. In 2000, the law was replaced by the Employment Relations Act by the Fifth Labour Government. A major improvement, it was nevertheless not perfect, made worse by the current National Party Government’s 2008 Employment Relations Amendment Act.

The bottom line is that by weakening unions, neoliberals not only increased the profits of corporations and the 1% that own them, it pretty much destroyed the former middle class lives of so-called working class workers. Skyrocketing inequality has been the result. This has been seen throughout the Western world, wherever the “nothing matters but profit” greed of neoliberal policies—the so-called “Chicago School” of economic theory—became government policy. It has been responsible for much suffering in the world and little to nothing of any benefit to ordinary people.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The first step is for workers to never accept mere words. In the USA’s elections last year, Don lied through his teeth, declaring he’d put coal miners “back to work”, knowing full well that will never happen. They bought it. And now Don will thank them for their votes by taking away their healthcare.

Workers, especially vulnerable workers, must unionise, and they should demand specific plans from politicians seeking their votes, not mealy-mouthed spin-doctored marketing slogans like Don gave American workers: Plans, then results, are what matters, not words.

Until the balance between workers and corporations is re-balanced, there’s unlikely to be a major change in the rates of worker injury and deaths. Workers organised and operating from a position of strength can demand safer conditions, going where governments are too timid to go because of the cowardice of politicians. Mere voting is not enough.

Things could change. Workers can take control of their own destiny, or they can continue to hope against all evidence that politicians will do the right thing—eventually. My money’s on the workers, every time.

Footnote: There’s a longer version of the above ad, too, which I’ve seen on TV at least once.

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