Thursday, May 11, 2006

Young "labourers against Labour" speak out

The campaign has politicised young workers in Auckland who before were voiceless and ignored.
JOE CAROLAN spoke to half-a-dozen to see how they viewed the Labour Party and its government, and what they thought may be an alternative.
Briar, Laurent and Sam were leaders of the December 2005 KFC Balmoral strike. The strikers there were, on average, possibly the youngest in New Zealand¹s history. Jen was a strike leader at Starbucks who¹s become a volunteer organiser with Unite Workers Union. Dom is a young artist and graphics designer who has also become a Unite volunteer. Nico is an ³open-minded student with socialist tendencies² who supports the Supersize campaign and the Workers Charter.

Joe: When I say the words ³Labour Party², what comes straight away into your mind?
Sam: Red.
Briar: Helen Clark.
Jen: A bunch of people who made a lot of promises, but sold us out in the end.
Laurent: The lesser evil to Don Brash¹s National Party.
Dom: Bourgeois scum!
Nico: A party for the workers.

Joe: Did you vote in the last election, and if so, for who? If not, why not?
Sam: As well as having to endure youth rates, I cannot vote until I¹m 18. Even so, I still have to pay tax on the little I earn. I reckon if the voting age was lowered to 16, a lot of young workers would vote for parties promising to abolish youth rates. Labour ain¹t one of them at the moment.
Briar: I voted Labour reluctantly, though I would have voted Green if the race wasn¹t so tight. Although Labour and National are mostly fairly similar, I think Labour has more progressive views on some things, such as gay rights.

Joe: Do you think Labour is a more liberal party than National?
Briar: Yes, but I also think they¹ve lost their roots. No Labour Party members physically supported our youth rates strike in Balmoral. You¹d probably see Labour Party banners at the Big Gay Out, but not at a strike led by young workers.
Dom: I meet Labour Party members regularly at my golf club.
Laurent: I voted Labour to keep National and Don Brash out. Although Labour isn¹t really a party that supports strikes anymore, there has been some small changes since they took power in 1999. For example, there¹s the right for unions such as Unite to access the work place and recruit. Workers get time-and-a-half and a day-in-lieu now for statutory holidays, whereas before it was just one or the other. Small things sure, but better than nothing.
Dom: I voted Maori Party to get some Maori representation in parliament.
Nico: I voted Greens in the party vote, and Anti-Capitalist Alliance in the candidate vote. It was a choice between Greens, Labour and the Maori Party. In the end, the Maori Party didn¹t have concrete policy, and the Greens needed the support.

Joe: Do you know anything about the Labour Party¹s past? Do you think they were more on the side of workers than they are now? Why?
Laurent: I know that Labour helped push for a nuclear free New Zealand in the 1980s. They were probably formed in the early 1900s by unionists, laying the foundations for the welfare state and pensions etc. They probably lost all that with Rogernomics in the 1980s.
Nico: I know tost of New Zealand¹s political history has been dominated by the National Party. Labour governments haven¹t lasted very long. I would hope they were originally on the side of workers, but aren¹t sure. When they were founded I think they would have been, but they were hijacked along the way by business interests. They weren¹t on the side of workers in [the waterfront lockout of] 1951, for example.
Dom: Labour has always been shit. Probably less shit than now, but still shit.

Joe: If Labour and its government won¹t abolish youth rates and give a $12 minimum wage now, do you think they should be a focus for protests? How?
Laurent: Absolutely. I think we should make a banner ³Labourers against Labour².
Briar: I agree. It¹s ironic but true. Maybe we should take our union banners to where their activists will be, like the Big Gay Out, to shame them into supporting workers¹ rights.
Sam: We should protest outside their offices, maybe even occupy them. Labour says it¹s against discrimination, but it still won¹t abolish youth rates. That¹s hypocrisy, plain and simple.
Nico: I think they¹re fair game. They¹ve made their bed, now they need an extremely disrupted sleep. A focus could be a shame-and-ridicule campaign on the recent wage rise of MPs. Individual Labour MPs should be targeted.
Dom: I think we should protest this government with milk bottles, boxes of matches, quarts of petrol and rags!

Joe: Do you think workers need an alternative to fight for them? What kind of alternative should it be? How do you think we should organise it?
Sam: Totally. We need a Union Party. And the voting age should be lowered to 16.
Jen: We need a party for the workers.
Dom: We need more militant unions and strikes.
Laurent: We should be pro-New Zealand. I want what¹s best for New Zealanders as a whole, not just New Zealand business or a select few wealthy individuals. I believe we need to stop shipping wealth off to other countries and retain profits in New Zealand. I believe people should have the right to a quality life.
Nico: There definitely needs to be an alternative, to show Labour¹s true colours. If set up right, a new political party would be a huge step to undermining Labour¹s core voting base. We need a party not based on maintaining bottom lines for business. Another idea would be to look for a functioning business that¹s favourable to workers¹ rights and use them as a pin-up model for other businesses and for workers.
Briar: Absolutely, we need an alternative. Unite should form a political party, the Unite Party. You can still support progressive causes without abandoning your support for working people, the young and the poor.
Laurent: We need a union political party, although a general political viewpoint may be difficult to find as there are so many different unions all wanting different things with different employers. I think now more than ever we need a party that will stand up for workers¹ rights and unions, but it shouldn¹t just be Unite-led. Other left-wing people and unions should be invited too, like the Workers Charter.