Last Friday I went to Harbour Stadium for the first time in many years, and this time it wasn't to see the oval ball in action. Instead I was there to take part in the Work Rights Wage Drive, organised primarily by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), and endorsed by the union I am a member of, the Service and Food Workers' Union Nga Ringa Tota (SFWU).
I was excited as I drove off the motorway at Oteha Valley Rd, and when I saw the EPMU flag-wavers pointing the way to the carpark I gave them a jubilant hoot. The gravel carpark had a healthy measure of cars and work vans, and I knew I was going to get my crowd-fix. I unpacked Wriggly and wheeled him up to the Stadium, passing a group of middle-aged men who told me the stroller must be turbo-charged; I shyly explained that I was just too excited to walk slowly. When I saw that the carpark right by the entrance was full of buses I realised this was going to be pretty big.
We were late, which is now the normal time of arrival for Wriggly and I. EPMU National Secretary Andrew Little was already underway welcoming the crowd of over 2000 workers and explaining the campaign's purpose. I was happy, feeling the vibe of positive determination all around me. Wriggly had some cuddles with a very insistent family sitting next to us, and all in all seemed rather unaffected by being in the midst of several thousand attentive unionists. Perhaps he's grown immune from all those visits to his father at work, and to my workplace. It was his first political rally and he handled it like a pro.
I was impressed by the number of women who spoke, in leadership roles; Helen Kelly (President of the Council of Trade Unions), Jill Ovens (Northern Regional Secretary of the SFWU), Barbara Wyeth (National President of the SFWU, and a worker at nearby North Shore Hospital) and a woman whose name I can't recall who was a new member of the EPMU. She briefly told the crowd about the difference the union had made to her life already, not least the over $3 an hour more that she was being paid since joining her workmates and joining the union. For her joining was about fairness, and creating an environment where the boss shared the profits of the business more justly with the workers who were making all the money in the first place.
There was no insistence that everyone vote Labour, despite the EPMU's affiliation to the party. In fact there were Green members handing out leaflets, and RAM tables set up to gather signatures for a petition about GST, with no grief evident. Organisers strongly pushed the message that you needed to be on the roll to vote, and followed that up by having enrollers on site (I was approached three times myself so I figure no one walked out unenrolled).
Toad was there too, and you can also see the EPMU's pics of the rally I was at, and their flickr page for the 25 rallies all over the country. In Manukau (where the photo below was taken) in excess of 6000 came, but you didn't see that in the Herald because they didn't bother to send a reporter. All up over 16,000 workers turned up all around our country to show their commitment to protect and improve their rights, and yours, in this election.
I hope that this is evidence of a groundswell of support for a centre-left government that the polls haven't been seeing. Today's Roy Morgan poll gives me some further reasons to smile, tentatively at least.
But I also hope the union movement has a Plan B too. Because a National Government, particularly one with Roger Douglas in Cabinet, will be no friend to workers. No friend at all.