The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Labour ain't labour

There seems to be this view amongst some on the right that the Labour Party equals the labour movement - that unions and Labour are exactly the same and that there are union tentacles controlling the inner levers of the party (and thus the Government) at every level. Case in point, Tim Barclay's comments calling for unions to be banned over at Just Left, starting with the democratic ejection of the Labour Party from Parliament.

If you check the page of the Labour website that refers to their union affiliates, you find the following:

The New Zealand Labour Party was formed in 1916 on the basis of broad industrial
support. That support continues today and trade union interests and issues
are represented in the Party through the Affiliates Council.
Labour may have had "broad industrial support" when it was formed, but today only three unions are affiliated to it; the Service and Food Workers' Union (SFWU), the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), and the Dairy Workers' Union (DWU).

If you check the CTU website you will see that there are in fact a great number of unions, not to mention those who are not affiliated to the CTU, certainly many more than three.

Yes there are a lot of unionists, members and officials, who are involved in Labour. There are also many Labour MPs who have come through unions to the seats they now hold. It is quite natural I think that people who are left of centre (even if that's not very left) should be involved in their unions - I imagine any polling done that asked people whether they were union members would show most who are vote leftish.

Although the Labour hierarchy has a lot of links to the union movement, I would argue that Labour has not in fact been the best party for labour in recent decades. The Alliance in particular has had much more worker friendly policies (eg four weeks annual leave before the Progs poached it), and in fact it was the hard work of Alliance MPs that resulted in many of the union-friendly provisions in the Employment Relations Act. Laila Harre fought hard for an amendment on sub-contractors which Labour voted down, only to include a version of it later on, in the Employment Relations Amendment Act, when they could clearly take credit for it.

The reality is that union membership, at the flax roots, are not hard arsed Labour people, or their unions would be affiliated. Many are quite sceptical about Labour, and may vote for them quite grudgingly. At election time most unions who do give political donations will not restrict themselves to Labour, but share themselves around a bit to parties they like the look of. But don't be fooled, there is a great deal more money for political donations coming from corporates than from unions, even to the left parties.

Union dosh is pretty small potatoes.


Jordan said...

The only thing I'd add to this is that the unions affiliated to the Labour Party are about 1/3 of the membership of all trade unions. There are more than three, too, that info must be out of date.

More unions (e.g. public sector ones) would affiliate if that didn't mean that they had problems with the employers in their sector as a consequence.

sagenz said...

span - never mind the formal affiliation. how much union funding is gained from the government and how much funding is donated by unions to the Labour party. that is flat out corruption. to my understanding at least $0.5m per year.

STC said...

Well of course you'd say that ;)

You are aware of course that some Unionists are calling for tax cuts?

People in Unions are free to choose who they vote for in my opinion - it makes the union stronger if it is inclusive and focused on industrial issues rather than a tool of direct political application.

I don't think the Labour party have used Unions in that way for quite a while, although of course there are unionists working in all parts of Labour.

span said...

If that info is out of date Jordan then maybe you should let the webmaster know? I've had several other labour people tell me that too, but they can't name any of the other affiliated unions...

If affiliation was tested at the membership level then I don't think that many more unions would affiliate (and I suspect SFWU might disaffiliate entirely, they have not tested their affiliation for years).

sagey - yes unions get money from govt, but it is a miniscule amount compared to the vast sums that businesses get. and having worked in an area for a year working on reporting for a grant let me tell you that the compliance and reporting required was pretty mammoth, for quite a small amount of dosh.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

How would a union go about testing affiliation? Could an individual SFWU member raise it at a local meeting, and request a vote on disaffiliation?

span said...

hmm, i'm not sure what the process is. SFWU doesn't have a branch structure. i guess you'd have to raise it at your worksite and get your workmates to support putting a remit to the Regional Conference, or the National Conference? you should request a copy of the Constitution from SFWU methinks.