The piece below appeared in a four-page brochure promoting the magazine revolution, one of the print predecessors to this blog. The brochure was undated, but was likely produced around 2000-2001, as the ERA was passed in 2000. This particular piece deals with the fifth Labour government’s industrial relations law.

The fifth Labour government, led by Helen Clark, was no friend of the working class

The fifth Labour government, led by Helen Clark, was no friend of the working class

The government’s Employment Relations Act, which replaced the notorious Employment Contracts Act, was allegedly about creating a more level playing field, in particular for workers. During the 1999 election campaign, the proposed new legislation was criticised by employer lobby groups, which accused the Labour and Alliance parties of wanting to return workplaces to a period of “union domination”.

As workers have found out, however, under this government life has changed very little. Whether it is watersiders fighting casualisation or health workers weighed down beneath bloated bureaucracies while pay and conditions continue to deteriorate, workers remain up against it.

This supposedly ‘worker-friendly’ government has no intention of re-establishing even the limited rights which were ripped up under the 1991 ECA. That legislation, although passed by National, primarily codified the worsened conditions of workers inflicted by the last Labour government – the ‘Rogernomics’ regime which Helen Clark was part of.

The new Employment Relations Act, in the words of the government, aims to improve “productivity by instituting “fairness” and “good faith” in the industrial bargaining process. In plain English, this means assisting employers step up the exploitation of workers behind a facade of class collaboration and inclusiveness.

Under the new Act all of the restrictions on the right to strike contaned in the ECA remain, except for one change that allows for strikes in support of multi-employer contracts. The new Act, however, goes further than the ECA in establishing a “cooling off” period at the beginning of contract negotiations, during which strikes and lockouts are banned for 40 days. This, of course, gives the employers plenty of time to prepare and takes away the element of surprise, which is often a helpful weapon for workers. Essentially, strikes are only legal where a contract has expired and workers have entered into negotiations to renew it.

Especially important are the bans on political strikes and sympathy strikes. These are vital rights which workers need to defend our interests.

Our ability to fight our employers is greatly enhanced if we can win support from other workers and they decide to take industrial action in solidarity. This is especially the case in jobs where wages are low and workers’ organisation is weak.

Employers certainly back each other up. The fact that the Labour-led government doesn’t want us to have the same rights as enjoyed by employers indicates that this regime does not want a strong and vibrant working class.

The right to strike for political reasons is crucial. Employers organise politically all the time. The government continually passes legislation which affects workers’ lives – not just industrial legislation, but a whole range of social and economic legislation. We need to be able to express our opinions on any and all legislation since it affects us as a class in society. Most importantly, we need to be able to act in support of or in opposition to legislation which affects us.

The government’s power to prevent us using our industrial muscle for political struggles also serves to drive us out of politics. This ensures that the realm of politics is kept separate from our working lives and continues to be dominated by the middle class professional careerists who run Labour and the other mainstream parties.

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