MAY DAY GUEST BLOG: James Ritchie – Corporate crime fighting in the 21st Century



MAY DAY is traditionally the day Unions celebrate the progressive change they have impacted upon society – This May TDB has asked leading progressive voices in NZ to give their views on the pressing issues that require solving in progressive politics. This is fourth one – James Ritchie

“Can the Left Survive” shouts the headline from the Tory press two weeks after the British elections.

Such a headline asks if economic and social justice can survive as if it is some kind of endangered fauna. It ignores the Scots overwhelming vote against austerity and glosses over the failure of British Labour to put a coherent alternative before the electorate.

For many years we have been looking for a coherent alternative that can resonate with the electorate and avoid environmental and economic catastrophe.

The question is not whether the fight against inequality and the fight for human rights can survive but what form it will take in the future.

There is no simple path and we need the wisdom to find new language and new methods to express progressive egalitarian values.

No single person or political party or social movement has all the solutions to work our way out of this mess. There can be certainty on principle but not on process and I therefore offer a few observations that might contribute; not to a debate but rather to finding a politics of consistency and humility which can focus on the planet and its people, rather than on the relentless pursuit of economic growth and corporate profit.

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We should do more listening and less hectoring and lecturing. People do not like to be given a lesson in polemics. We sometimes use the language associated with totalitarianism and economic failure. This is a major impediment to progress.

We need consistency in our principles rather than consistency in supporting anything perceived as ‘Left’. To illustrate this point we only have to look at the labour movement’s ambivalent relationship to ILO conventions. We declare that we take a rights approach to the workplace and then excuse the extensions of the State apparatus that masquerade as unions in nations such as China, Vietnam and Egypt.

We either support democratic and independent trade unions and the right to strike or we support state control of workers organizations. Labour activists are not the nation state and are not required to practice international diplomacy, so we would be better served by a consistent approach to human rights.

Change does not come easily. It will not be won through passive observation and reliance on dialogue in social media.

It takes work, struggle and commitment. It will take patience and respect and consideration.
We could begin by developing a greater understanding of the reasons why so many working class people are turning to UKIP or NZ First (I am not equating the policies of these two political parties but I suggest that both attract disaffected working class voters.)

Voters for these parties are rejecting globalization and the self serving inadequacy of the political establishment.

Many voters believe that the free flow of labour threatens their jobs and incomes. While expressing concern about the free flow of capital as disrupting social protection and putting downward pressure on wages and living standards, we are quick to point out any xenophobic tendencies in the debate over the free flow of labour. We might be better to acknowledge that people want an immigration policy that contributes to economic security.

If we can acknowledge that the increased mobility of labour might cause greater chaos, insecurity and social dislocation then we can start developing a humane immigration and refugee policy that contributes to community and builds economic and social security.

Our role is to work with people to lessen insecurity, not to collaborate in neo liberal policies which increase it.

The strengthening of economic security requires the championing of regulation and collective rights. It is the freedom from poverty rather than the freedom of our choices as consumers that requires attention in this age of obscene inequality.

Individual rights are not a threat to corporate capitalism. Euthanasia, marriage equality, and racial equality do not challenge corporate dominance and the economic order. This is not to diminish the importance of these rights as the fight against discrimination is integral to the struggle for social justice.

However, there is not media space or serious consideration in most political discourse concerning the suppression of collective rights. The right to form and join unions of your choice and join with others to collectively bargain terms and conditions of employment threatens the dominant world order and the debate is shut down or ignored by mainstream media and most politicians at every opportunity, including by many in Labour and social democratic parties.
Financial regulation and redistributive tax policies also challenge corporate dominance and these must also be kept at the top of the agenda for progressive activists.

This is the political battleground where the stakes are highest. And frankly most social democratic and Labour parties are avoiding the battlefield in favour of ad hoc populist skirmishes (mansion tax, work for beneficiaries) and the support for individual rights.
And while we are distracted by the daily news cycle we continue to condemn citizens of the future by refusing to seriously tackle climate change. The intergenerational theft of today blocks the access of young people to decent employment and social benefits. We must not tolerate these crimes of the 21st century and we must not be distracted from the struggle to restore the rights and incomes of working people everywhere.

James Ritchie runs one of the largest Unions on the planet – the IUF-UITA-IUL


  1. Hear hear to that lot.

    However much of what is written here translated into commonspeak is the cumulative destruction of collectivism among the workforce – aka unions – in general.

    And how that came about was through the dominant ideology – not just economic theory – of neo liberal think tanks.

    It is this destructive ideology that more than anything else has created the current conditions we see now.

    You state about working with people to lessen insecurity , not collaborate with neo liberal policies that increase it…championing of collective rights…the right to form and join unions of your choice …with others to collectively bargain for terms and conditions of employment…
    …………………………………………………………………………….’s where it gets interesting.

    It was no error that hot on the heels of the neo liberals agenda along with privatization of SOE’s….

    The Employment Contracts Act was passed.

    And as in the old Soviet Union..when that became more of an open economy …certain former public ‘ CEO’s ‘ suddenly became the current oligarchs of that country.

    Much like what happened here. On obscene salary’s …with a mass of workers clinging on for dear life for their jobs.

    That is ,…until Vladimir Putin had them all tried and imprisoned for corrupt practice. We no longer hear of the massive ques for bread that happened initially when the Soviet Union broke up and the private corporations moved in.

    The Employment Contract Act was a major coup de tat and the greatest weapon devised to force compliancy on NZ ‘s workforce and unions.

    WHY ?

    Quite simply ….by removing import tariffs on cheap imports that threatened this country’s manufacturing base , – with which we could not compete , – it held unions over a barrel simply through threat of job losses.

    It was all too easy to have all the cards stacked in corporate interests hands.

    Unions lost their bargaining power overnight.

    All a large employer had to do then was to threaten to ‘ outsource ‘ ( doublespeak for contract out ) the work to a country overseas – where cheap labour could increase their profits wildly.

    So with deregulation of imports /exports that very situation came about. Unions were forced to act with their backs against the wall.

    It is interesting that several large manufacturers have done just that – and yet owe their very existence to a country that protected those company’s in their infancy in the first place from overseas competition that would have sunk them before they even got off the ground.

    One of the basic observations of long term effects of wrongful economic management/ theory is simply if a population is progressively impoverished and disenfranchised ….the worse it is for those same large corporate’s to assume that an increase in profits can still be had when they have effectively conspired with govt to lessen their own target consumer bases purchasing power.

    They then become like any other parasitic enterprise that takes and never puts back into their own business to ensure future wealth can be extracted.

    This is the extreme folly of the total free market and ‘ Free Trade Deals ‘ expounded by these neo liberals.

    Trade is not wrong and wealth creation isn’t either – but wholesale deregulation with those practices that leads to a destructive unethical disenfranchisement of the population and consumer base certainly is.

    And is certainly only a symptom of short term and irresponsible greed that cares nothing for the effects its having on its own sustainability and future viability.

    And while international trade is to be encouraged , like any undertaking to ensure order and avoidance of negative long term effects – it MUST have regulations.

    And those regulations must have input from a workforce whereby there is a legitimate and valid balance of power at helping to create those regulations.

    Otherwise we quickly descend into a kind of modern day version of feudalistic society.

    It is all very well to have the ‘freedom to form and join a union of your choice ‘….but if it has no real bargaining power or political teeth to back up that balance of power then you might as well say that union has all the industrial bargaining power as the local origami society.

    In other words it becomes a nice idea… but totally irrelevant.

    So in order to reverse this state of affairs – the first thing is to lobby to overturn the Employment Contracts Act. The second is to reintroduce some form of regulatory tariff at the borders.

    In doing so would ensure the thousands of small businesses and jobs here are protected. Possibly at the price of some entrepreneurs…but certainly not to the expense of the majority.

    I posted earlier in another article about Aroha Ireland…and how she stated in 2014 after moving to Australia that she now was working for $38.00 per hour , which if is a 40 hour working week amounts to $1520.00 per week – and she isn’t working in a white collar job – but a warehouse in the Coles Supermarket chain.

    She also stated that a 3 bedroom house with 2 bathrooms and a double garage is about $265 per week for rent.

    Now something is terribly wrong in this country when we have thousands of people working on the minimum wage and a large number of unemployed that can barely afford rent , food , clothes …in fact …any sort of life or hope at getting ahead at all.

    The neo liberal ‘rockstar ‘ economy here isn’t working , we’ve been seriously conned and manipulated. To the point of being it becoming treasonous.

    And 35 years ago we were a lot like Australia.

    And to any detractors who point out that Australia’s economy is tanking – its not happening that fast – that article was only written last year. The article appears on Stuff .co .nz 7/09/2014.

    And no one can accuse Australia of being both market driven AND having a strong union presence.

    • I like how you have totally rewritten history in your own head so now the bread shortages in the Soviet Union were the result of Capitalism taking over rather than Communism failing to deliver.

      • I like how you bite every time anything that hits home about your precious neo liberal capitalism comes under threat of being exposed for the anti sovereign anti democratic and anti egalitarian dogma with which it actually is.

        Quite funny to be honest.

        And boringly predictable.

  2. “We sometimes use the language associated with totalitarianism and economic failure.”

    Examples of this would be useful.

    • Ah …but here’s the rub ….without boring everyone to tears and giving vast appendages and links to underline and quote every minor point , it saves times for people to learn a little about history and the definition of totalitarianism.

      Instead of being a neo liberal sycophant and a parochial wonder such as yourself , Gosman and nit picking on minor points of no real consequence , how about getting outside, going for a walk – particularly through some of the poorer suburbs – of which there are now many – and asking yourself ‘ would I want to trade places? ‘ .

      Go have a talk with some of the people you find. And shut up and listen and learn. Just for once unplug those ears and have a listen instead of hiding behind your cherished dreams and living in fantasy land.

    • Increasing child poverty?

      High unemployment?

      Wages lagging behind Australia?

      Manufacturing shifting to low-wage societies?

      Housing unaffordability getting worse?

      Increasing wealth/income gap?

      Howzat, Gosman, for examples? Is that useful for you?

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