For more than 100 years workers in New Zealand have battled to win fair working conditions for their members. At times the struggle has gone to the extreme where striking workers have been killed. Yes, that has been a rare event but such times have been catalysts in the struggle. For a few decades New Zealand was a shining example of hope for workers around the world as they slowly achieved working conditions that reflected a widely held belief that NZ offers ‘fairness’ for those who were prepared to put in a day’s work. Then the battle started again, in the later part of the last century as successive Governments, but manly those led by the national Party scrambled to increase the profits of large companies and lessen the powers of organized labour.
We have seen a slow stripping away of the rights of unions to organize and represent the rights of their members. Union membership fell for several decades and it has only been in the last few years that this tendency has slowed or perhaps reversed. There is little doubt in the minds of many people that their positions in the work place are far more tenuous now but action to fight that has been lacking despite the best efforts of unions to increase their membership numbers.
Last night in Parliament a ‘Private Members’ bill was stopped in its tracks as the proposer failed to gain a majority in order for it to proceed. This is a watershed moment in the struggle for fair rights for workers. The National Party and its friends will be fuming at the prospect of a worker fight back. Unions will take strength from this result and renew their fight for a resurgent and way overdue reversal of recent trends. But, is this enough? I don’t think so. The media is still well and truly in the pockets of industry and big business so if the unions and tier allies think that the battle for better working conditions is won, they need to think again and build on this very small gain. They have a long way to go, just to stop the losses in their numbers. Now they need to focus on some of the worst aspects of the attacks they have endured for so long. Unless they win this battle, we will see more of the failed ‘trickle down’ (which has been proven to be a ‘trickle up—only faster) myth and the ever widening the gap between those who have most and those who have less and less.