Easter trading

Easter Sunday is one of the three-and-a-half days a year when (most) shops have to be closed. That could be changing. From Denise Roche of the Greens:

The new rules would supposedly protect people’s rights to say no to shifts on Easter Sunday or to apply for annual leave for that day. But that just shows how out of touch National is with the real situation for many working people.

Imagine you’re a young person going for your first or second job in retail, and in the job interview the boss asks you how you’d feel about working on Easter Sunday. You’re hardly going to say no, because you want the job.

Or maybe you’re a single parent, juggling childcare and work. The person who does the rostering for the shop where you work is already annoyed at you because your commitment to your kids means sometimes you need to change the roster. Are you going to risk annoying your boss even more by asking not to work on Easter Sunday?

Unfortunately, I think, it seems to be a line some in Labour will accept:

Labour leader Andrew Little has expressed favour in allowing shops to trade on the weekend, but he had a few concerns.

“I wouldn’t object to a law that allowed trading on Easter Sunday, providing the right of the worker to genuinely opt-out,” he said.

Allowing employers leeway with words like “reasonable” and “genuine opt-out” probably works fine in some situations. It’s like the Danish “flexicurity” model which is being bandied about in the Future of Work conversations that are happening at the moment. Flexicurity gives employers huge leeway – in a context of massive collective strength for workers. Chris Trotter already joined the dots on this one:

New Zealand and Denmark have many similarities, but in 2016 they also feature a number of vital differences. In relation to flexicurity, the most important of these is the respective level of union density.

As the official Danish website puts it: “The development of the labour market owes much to the Danish collective bargaining model, which has ensured extensive worker protection while taking changing production and market conditions into account. The organisation rate for workers in Denmark is approx. 75%.”

The organisation rate for New Zealand workers in 2014 was approx. 19%.

In fairness, Little did say:

“The bottom line is you’ve got to protect the right of workers to genuinely opt-out and not be subject to stigma and pressure.”

But this is a bit of a paradox. The employer/employee relationship is inherently unbalanced. One side starts off with all the power and money. The power to hire in the first place. The power to take the job away. The money to hire the best lawyers and drag out court proceedings over disputes and weather a long lockout. There will always be stigma and pressure on a worker to accept the deal they’re offered.

The power imbalance is only mitigated – not cured – when the people who do the work can stand together in solidarity, and when a basic set of good employment standards are entrenched in the law and enforced adequately.

This is labour relations 101. Look where the power lies. Look at the context. Right now, the context is that workers in New Zealand aren’t even guaranteed a minimum set of rest breaks during their shift. Operations like Talley’s AFFCO are literally threatening disciplinary action to make people work on public holidays.

In this environment, with that level of power imbalance, the idea of giving employers more and more of the power as long as they promise to be “reasonable” is so Pollyanna-ish that Pollyanna would look at it and think “damn, that’s a little optimistic”.

It would be so great to live in a world where workers and employers can have truly healthy relationships. Where people can have the flexibility to take or work on holiday weekends, where pay is fair and jobs are secure. We don’t live in that world. We live in the world where people like Peter Talley get knighthoods.

So let’s not dismantle the very last scraps of workers’ rights just yet.

~

Labour is allowing a conscience vote on the issue. It might be interesting to see where the lines are drawn.

Migration, taps and growing pains

I keep promising to review Anat Shenker-Osorio’s book Don’t Buy It. I’m getting there, I promise. My copy is almost more Post-It Note than paper at the moment.

But there’s a chapter in which she discusses different ways to frame talking about the economy and the country, and one example cropped up almost word-for-word in New Zealand politics yesterday, so I thought I’d give a sneak preview:

Little says Labour would cap migration

Labour leader Andrew Little says ethnic restaurants should be employing New Zealand Indians and Chinese chefs instead of bringing in staff from overseas.

“At times when our economy is creaking, we need to be able to turn down the tap a bit,” Mr Little said.

“Immigration is positive for any country. But there are times also when our country’s going through some growing pains … and it is right to say ‘let’s just turn the tap down a bit’.”

It’s interesting to think about how Andrew Little is using language. What’s the subtext? People who migrate to New Zealand are a flow of water, a natural thing, but a bad thing if too much of it happens, you end up with extra Chinese and Indian chefs all over the floor. And we’re at risk of that happening, apparently, because we’re “creaking” under the pressure of all this water.

The “growing pains” phrase grabbed my attention, because it’s one Shenker-Osorio specifically addresses (not that I can find the relevant quote in amongst the forest of Post-Its):

Once we’re primed to understand the economy as most aptly akin to a body, periods of good and bad health are natural and therefore expected. Moreover, we know most conditions a body experiences go away unaided. So by applying body language, we’re telling audiences to expect that periods of prosperity and recession are normal and emphatically don’t require government intervention.

This is kind of bad news for a party whose foundational principles are all about the ability of the government to intervene, to stop ordinary people getting smashed under the wheels of capitalism.

I don’t think New Zealand is undergoing “growing pains”. I think we have a government focused on  short-term business profits, neglecting the important social services which keep people happy and healthy, and stripping back the rights which keep people healthy, safe, and unexploited at work. There’s nothing natural about that, and it’s clearly not going away by itself if the Opposition stops scratching it.

Beyond the narrative metaphor-building nerdery, though, there are two more tiny problems with this rhetoric,.

The first is that it’s racist dogwhistling gutter trash.

The second is even if that doesn’t bother you, there are no votes in racist dogwhistling gutter trash as long as Winston Peters breathes.

~

After drafting this, Labour put out a response to the general commentary. There’s a whole other post’s worth of stuff to say, but it’s late, I’m tired, and all I can say is this: there’s a reason people find it entirely plausible that Labour would engage in race-baiting rhetoric. And it’s not the media’s fault.

Three free years

With apologies to the Greens – that’s no policy costings unit, it’s a space station.

The four State of the Nation addresses held last week make an interesting analogy for their respective parties’ goals in 2016.

The Greens are going to demand respect as mature political actors and build themselves as credible, thoughtful and full of integrity.

John Key, whose SOTN kind of vanished without a trace last Wednesday, is carrying on the business-as-usual nothing-to-see-here approach.

Winston Peters held his SOTN in Orewa and I haven’t heard anything about it, probably because my ears don’t pick up the frequency of his dogwhistle.

Labour is … doing things differently.

Three years’ free post-school education for school leavers and people who haven’t accessed tertiary education is a pretty tremendous announcement. It wedges the door open for the next generation of students who won’t be saddled with as-horrific levels of debt before they even get to start their “real” careers.

And yeah, I say that as someone who still has years of loan-and-living-costs repayments ahead of me.

snape not mad

Education is too valuable to reduce to an individual’s job chances. It’s about far more than training people to be accountants and lawyers, even if the Minister responsible for it thinks so.

Education is a public good. We all benefit from lifting up each other’s knowledge and skills and abilities to think and adapt to different situations.

And from the reaction I’ve seen, most people get that. They understand that the 25-year social experiment with “user-pays” education is a total failure. They get that there is an alternative.

But let’s look at it in terms of the direction Labour is signalling for 2016 and heading into Election 2017. Make no mistake: free tertiary education is a leftward step. And it’s about time.

Even in the latter days of the Clark government, Young Labour types would argue that making it easier for students to go into personal, up-front debt to pay for their degree counted as “making tertiary education affordable”. That was the safe approach, which technically opened up opportunities for young people in education but accepted the fundamentally rightwing idea that education was an individual pursuit and that individuals should bear the financial burden, personally and up-front.

This policy is free tertiary education. There are conditions: it’s time-bound – for now. It doesn’t apply to people like me who have already got degrees – for now. It’s dependent on passing half your papers each year.

Still: it is free. Tertiary. Education. And that’s a lot more than I would have predicted, to be honest.

I have nits to pick – I’m a leftwing political blogger, after all – but this is a solid first move after a year of stocktaking and self-reflection by the party. It’s a pity that it will be overshadowed a little by the continued TPPA shenanigans, but if Labour builds on this across its portfolios – social development, healthcare, justice – it has the beginnings of a bold, compelling set of ideas to take into the 2017 election.

Labour in 2016 is not afraid to look to the left, change the conversation, and dare National to follow their lead.

It’s exactly what they’ve needed. Long may it continue.

Labour’s reshuffle announced today

Andrew Little is set to announce a new Shadow Cabinet today  -I know, I know, the phrase Shadow Cabinet is so #ukpol but it’s also too cool not to use:

Tracy Watkins has some reckons:

Some big movers are tipped in Labour leader Andrew Little’s first big reshuffle.

“We’ve got to think not only about the portfolio allocations, we’ve got to think about chief whip and junior whip in a new government, and positions outside Cabinet, positions available for potential coalition partners.


The reshuffle is an important positioning move for Labour as the year rolls to a close. While the party’s poll ratings are up on the election result, Labour continues to trail National by a large margin.

Little said next year would be about “knuckling down” and refining policies that were “definitive enough and bold enough” to give voters the “measure of who we are in 2017”.

The long and short of it – according to Watkins – is:

  • King to remain deputy but gain an “understudy” in health, with her eyes on a diplomatic posting early in the term
  • Ardern and Davis to get some good meaty roles – no surprise given their respective profiles and some damn fine campaign work on Serco and Christmas Island
  • Twyford vs Shearer for trade – which could influence Labour’s position on the TPP
  • Good things for Sue Moroney who’s done great work on paid parental leave
  • Possible bad news for Mahuta and Cunliffe
  • Nothing for Goff for obvious mayoralty-related reasons

Little also confirmed this is the “last reshuffle” he’s planning before the election and

I have no inside information on the new rankings myself but if this is going to be the team to take us into 2017 – including some indication of what portfolios might be up for grabs for the Greens (and/or NZ First) – I’m looking forward to it being an exciting one.

UPDATE: Radio Live are Periscoping the announcement.

New rankings and portfolios are now up on the Labour website. Scoop has a PDF of the caucus rankings here.

Labour’s media release:

Labour line-up to take the 2017 election
 
Opposition Leader Andrew Little has today announced a strong and talented shadow Cabinet to take Labour into the 2017 election.
 
“Labour had an impressive intake of fresh faces after last year’s election and newest MPs have now had a year to show what they’re made of.
 
“This reshuffle rewards hard work and continues my drive to renew our Caucus line up.
 
“Kelvin Davis moves up after he shone the spotlight on Serco scandals and the treatment of detainees in Australia. He will now take on Māori Development.
 
“Megan Woods joins the front bench in recognition of the important work she is leading in Canterbury and on climate change.
 
“Newer faces Jenny Salesa and Peeni Henare move into the Shadow Cabinet, along with Meka Whaitiri who takes on local government.
“High profile MP Jacinda Ardern moves up along with Phil Twyford who adds Auckland Issues to his bow.
 
Stuart Nash moves into the Shadow Cabinet and picks up Police. Her tireless campaigning on paid parental leave sees Sue Moroney promoted.
 
“Today’s reshuffle is a strong mix of new talent and experience – and builds a solid team to win in 2017,” Andrew Little says.

Labour, identity, class and winning

Andrew Little’s speech to conference has had great feedback, topping off a pretty good weekend for the party. I was there when he delivered it, and the response in the hall was thunderous.

A few people who covered the conference have put their own framing onto it. Bryce Edwards declared “Andrew Little is killing Labour’s identity politics”. Martyn Bradbury pronounced “identity politics put on the naughty step for some time out”.

Perhaps we were at different conferences. Believe me, plenty of “identity politics” was discussed, openly, happily and constructively. The reason there’s no headlines about it is the people having those discussions did it away from the spotlight – for obvious reasons.

It’s the same old misunderstanding about identity politics and class politics: that identity isn’t a real thing, but class is an objective, clear determinant of someone’s place in society.

But it’s rubbish. One of the biggest challenges leftwing parties face these days is that pretty much everyone thinks they’re middle-class. People who are poor don’t want to be told they’re powerless victims, and people who are comparatively well-off just want to think of themselves as “ordinary people”.

To shamelessly steal an idea from Pablo Iglesias:

One can have the best analysis, understand the keys to political developments since the sixteenth century, know that historical materialism is the key to understanding social processes. And what are you going to do — scream that to people? “You are workers and you don’t even know it!”

Class can be a core part of who people are, or not important to their lives, just like any other facet of identity. More so, since the right have spent decades eroding class identities with their bootstraps analogies and framing – happily adopted by the left – of “middle” and “ordinary” New Zealanders.

We can’t reject a class analysis. We wouldn’t be the Labour Party without one. But in 2015 it isn’t the be-all and end-all of political thought.

I took two points from what Maryan Street said at conference. We can do more than one thing at a time, and:

Being a “both/and party” instead of an “either/or party” isn’t just about multitasking. It can mean recognising that our issues aren’t distinct.

I’ll go one step further. Not only are class, inequality, wealth and work un-distinct from gender, race, ability and all those pesky “identities” – they are the same thing.

How will Labour eradicate poverty in our country without addressing the fact that women are systemically paid less than men and are over-represented in many of the poorest paid industries? When women are still the primary caregivers of children, expected to put careers on hold for parenting?

How will Labour make sure Kiwis get the care they need when they need it and give our doctors and nurses and health workers the funding they need to do their jobs without looking at the infantilising red tape around abortion, or the utter lack of meaningful support for trans health care?

How do we modernise our education system so our kids are better prepared for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet without mentioning children with special needs or the entrenched disparities for Māori and Pasifika kids?

You won’t get very far changing the fundamental inequalities created by modern capitalism if you don’t understand that those inequalities, and the “identities” you want to kick out of the debate, are the same problem.

Why are women treated as a separate class? So we stay at home and have babies create new economic units, and if we wander accidentally into the workforce, we’re paid less to put downward pressure on all workers’ pay and conditions.

Why are gay or lesbian or trans or genderqueer people treated as separate classes and singled out for abuse? Because they mess up the whole heterosexual family structure which has babies creates new economic units.

Colonialism, and the impact it has on indigenous people of colour, is part and parcel of the capitalist need to constantly grow and consume land and resources.

I oversimplify greatly. But if you believe we can take serious action on poverty, on jobs, on the future of work, or on people’ aspirations for a better life without discussing “identity” politics, you don’t understand capitalism. And you certainly don’t get how to fight it.

Andrew said in his speech:

New Zealanders are sick and tired of a politics that’s defined by cynicism and devoid of ambition.

I’m sick and tired of the cynicism which says “women and minorities, go away, no one wants to hear you whining.” I’m sick and tired of the lack of ambition from so many leftwingers who say we can’t do more than one thing at a time, and we can’t care about anyone who isn’t like us.

Take what you like from Andrew’s speech. What I took from it is this.

The experiences I’ve had in my working life have taught me the type of leadership you need if you want to fight and win for progressive causes.

I learnt that it isn’t about making everyone happy or trying to avoid confrontation and disagreement.

Instead it’s about taking a stand because it’s the right thing to do.