Thursday, 4 September 2008

The roar of the crowd

Time was I used to go to Harbour Stadium to watch my team lose (usually). I'd sit in the uncovered stand, eating chips, yelling "Haaaaaaaar-boooooooooour" at opportune moments, hoping someone would pass it to Frank Bunce, and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I mostly found being in such a crowd energising and exciting, even when at full time we were inevitably behind. But if it was a ratty, nasty game, like that NPC final at Onewa Domain against Auckland, I'd be swung by the mood on and off the field, and end up sometimes grumpy and frustrated, often sad, as I walked to the car with my Harbour scarf trailing in the wind.
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.


Carol said...

Thanks for this uplifting report. No surprise that the Herald didn't send any reporters. I rarely look at it these days anyway. It's became such a blatant cheerleader for the Nats in the last year or so that I think they should have to register as a Third Party for the coming election. And how much money do they use to support the Nats? Should be declared in the Nats electoral spending.

Anna McM said...

We have a serious problem with low wages in this country. It bothers me that Working for Families has been introduced with the byline 'Making Work Pay'. Work should under most circumstances pay enough for people to live on. It shouldn't be that a person like me, with a good salary, is a recipient of state support. As a person with a good job and high level of education, I ought to be earning enough that I should be a nett contributor to the tax take. God only knows how people with really low wages survive. :-(

homepaddock said...

National is not anti worker and its philosophy is one of empowerment - let those who can look after themselves do so and help those who can't.

Tax cuts help workers directly by leaving more in their pay packets and with their employers; and indirectly by boosting the economy.

WfF may be the best way to help low income people (because they don't pay enough tax to benefit sufficiently from tax cuts) but we have a serious problem when middle and upper income families need benefits.

Part of the answer to that is a stronger economy and better education.

The Bewildering Case of Ms Enid Tak-Entity said...

Ha! I still remember that little plastic figurine of Frank Bunce that you kept on your desk at the student union... and the pride with which you showed me that Herald clipping of him campaigning for the Alliance!

Julie said...

@ Carol, completely agree about the Herald. It wouldn't be so bad if they weren't the only newspaper in town.

@ Enid, Yeah I'm not so proud of Mr Bunce these days with his frequent appearances in the gossip pages. He was a bloody good centre though.

Regarding low wages and whether a National government would be good for workers - The Standard has done some great analysis on this stuff over recent months, looking at a variety of measures of income levels and how they improved for the poor under Labour and didn't last time National were in power.

We struggle a bit on one $60K+ income at the moment, in terms of day to day expenses. But we've got sufficient backing from when we were on two good incomes to afford to do things like renovate our bathroom (which frankly I see as a transfer between assets - using some of our savings to significantly improve the value of our house), and we have a good base of possessions to work from anyway (nice clothes, a decent car, our own home which the bank owns less and less every week, etc). I can't imagine how we would cope if our income was lower, or if we had more expenses, eg another child.

But people do, all over New Zealand, every day. I have a lot of respect for them. And I don't think tax cuts that are aimed at the rich are going to help them much, although they might help me.

Azlemed said...

tax cuts wont help us much under the tories. We are on a single income of just over $50k, we dont own our own house, and have three kids under 6,

We are looking at buying our first home and its very scary,

Hubby isnt a low paid employee but a technician finishing his phd, so we at least have earing potentail later, I would hate to be in a situation where we were both working fulltime to support our family, but we know people who do and still struggle.

I just hope that the nats dont convince low wage earners that they will be better off under them

artandmylife said...

azelmed - we are in the same boat (3 under 6 and 50k-ish single income). And boy its hard work, even without all the recent price increases. Still its (mostly) good to be able to choose to stay home with the kids - which working for families allows me to do.

My partner and I both have post graduate qualifications. You'd think the wages would be higher in either of our fields but it seems like Auckland (where living costs are so much higher) or overseas are the only other options right now for a large pay jump.

Azlemed said...

to be better off, we looked at dunedin, but the science funding wasnt enough in B's field to get a job there, so we are looking at buying in Palmy, Our problem with Tax cuts is that they will not benefit us more than WFF does, They will help middle income people without dependants but not families who are earning ok but not over $60k.

Azlemed said...