Headless Chickens (or Nob and Nobility)

Last Thursday night I attended the first Christchurch event of ‘Drinking Liberally’, which appeared to be organized by the local Young Labour members in Christchurch. While, I am given to understand that ‘Drinking Liberally’ is supposed to be a ‘left’ forum, a number of the issues discussed related specifically to the Labour Party and how Labour could be better organized to win the next election.

I don’t want to discuss this aspect of ‘Drinking Liberally’ in this posting. However, I do want to draw upon several comments provided by the guest speaker to the event, EPMU General Secretary (and incoming Labour President) Andrew Little in relation to the ‘Fire at Will Bill’ (which at that point) was being pushed through the House by the National led Government. In a question to Andrew about the Union’s reaction to the Bill’s passing and what their course of action would be, he responded that when the Bill was formally put into effect in April 2009, then the Unions (and one assumes the Labour Party) would act.

The comments reminded me of an episode from Blackadder III. In which Blackadder and Baldrick had been captured by the ‘evil’ French Revolutionaries and were to be executed by guillotine the next day. Baldrick immediately thinks of a cunning plan which involves Blackadder and Baldrick doing nothing until AFTER they had been guillotined. Baldrick explains that his rationale behind this course of action was because chickens, after they had their heads cut off, ran round and round the farmyard and out of the gate.

The strategy of the CTU and the Labour party appears to be roughly the same. Wait until the blade slices off your head and then grab it, run around the farmyard and out the gate. Or, in this case wait until after the Government passes the 90 Day Probation Bill and then oppose it. To be fair, the CTU have started up an email campaign against the Bill which by Thursday night had gained 2000 signatures. However, the main assault against the Bill is to come in April. Up until that time, the Unions (and one assumes the Labour Party) will conduct an extremely low level campaign of networking.

In France, when the newly elected Conservative Government attempted to pass employment laws punishing French youth several years ago, there was mass civil unrest. Even in the United Kingdom, one of the more conservative of the European nations, unjust laws have been met with protests. While, I am not suggesting unrest on the French scale, the New Zealand left could do worst than organize marches, protests and the like to show its disquiet against this fascistic Bill before its passing.

It appears however, that the strategy of the Unions (and of the Labour Party) is the same as in the 1990s. Wait until the Bill is passed and then pray to hell that a Labour Government gets elected next term and removes it.

It’s a very sad and tepid strategy.

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5 Comments on “Headless Chickens (or Nob and Nobility)”

  1. PC says:

    Agreed that angry emailing is a weak response likely just to evoke sniggers from the right wing. Hit them where it hurts – in their pockets. I’d like to see a boycott campaign where workers let businesses know they will lose customers – massively – if they intend to exploit workers by using this new Bill. Companies that force new workers to “agree” to the trial should be blacklisted. If the unions got behind this – running an identification programme to list the good and bad companies – it could be an effective way to render “fire at will” a poisoned chalice.

    • Quentin says:

      I agree. I think that some form of protest at this stage would be better than simply accepting the passage of a bill which strips away rights from new workers.

      I had hoped that the Unions would have learnt something from the Employment Contracts Act debate in 1991. Sadly, I don’t think that they have.

  2. Daniel Webster says:

    Woah, there! YL Christchurch had nothing to do with organizing Drinking Liberally; I know, I’m a member. For us to get involved would completely undermine the non-partisan purpose of Drinking Liberally.

    I totally agree with you – as did a number of my colleagues who attended – that the focus of discussion on the Labour party was unfortunate and not at all ideal for the first meeting. However, it is not a tightly controlled forum and I think it’s somewhat natural that the only left party with a reasonable chance of forming a government in 2011 is going to be a major topic of interest.

    And on the 90 day bill, who’s to say there won’t be protests? It takes time to organize, dude. I know there was a wee protest of about 20-30 people outside parliament and a similar one outside John Key’s house (all hail the mighty Facebook) but anything bigger than that is going to take quite a bit of effort considering there’s not a lot of discontent around this issue on the ground among the general public.

    • Quentin says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for the clarification. As I said, it ‘appeared’ to be organised by Young Labour on the basis of the discussion and those who were principally involved. I, for example, did not get an invite until the day itself. However, I have put my name on the sheet and I do think that it is a worthy exercise in furthering left participation. I look forward to the next one.

      I look forward to the protests (if any). I fully realise that protests (like good cheese) takes time (as a seasoned veteran of many of them myself). Yet, that certainly was not the impression that I took away from the last Drinking Liberally forum. It appears that we are to wait until April – hence, my comments. Considering that the Unions and the Labour Party did have prior warning that the Nats might reintroduce the Mapp Bill one would have hoped that they would have hit the ground running.

  3. john says:

    Excellent idea by PC above. I will quite cheerfully boycott any company that uses the “fire at will” bill to sack a new employee. I would further say that this is not solely a “political” problem…any company that uses this law should be made fully aware that is it regarded by the public as fascistic and immoral and they therefore will suffer a social and public cost.


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