Raise the flag – and bear it



A young paid union official presented her flag to a Living Wage activist at a recent festival asking that someone take it to future events in case she couldn’t make it herself.   The standard was raised high but the bearer has departed.  

Far from unique this story must resonate with many movements for change in our democracy and it is the challenge we currently face of organising through individual commitment or representation in a hollowed out civil society – gutted by under-funding and regulatory constraints; often out-manoevered by the funding agencies that have designed service contracts gagging freedom of speech in exchange for money.

Thousands of citizens, like me, try to impact on decision-makers, like Councils, all the time and yet we struggle to make them listen. Tragically, there are daily examples of this. I marched down Queen St to oppose the TPPA  in the single biggest mobilisation of citizens for many years – the issue resonated across diverse communities – and yet our voices were not heard. It took extraordinarily hard work by many, social media saturation (for those on social media), well-researched argument and powerful articulate proponents opposing the treaty, and yet we got no traction with those who needed to listen and understand an issue that touched the hearts of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders.

Influencing the government funders of wages at Auckland Council has met the same wall of resistance.  Hundreds of submissions in the last two years calling for a Living Wage for directly paid and contracted workers in that Council’s never-ending cycle of meaningless consultation, have been met with silence about the importance of decent wages in plans associated with the future of the “world’s most liveable city.” Voices are being raised all across NZ but we live in a democracy where millions of dollars are invested in public consultation while decisions are made in a seemingly parallel universe behind impenetrable fortresses of bureaucracy.

E tū member Lupe Funua is an Auckland Council cleaner with a young family who says she wants to feed and clothe her family but everything is too expensive.  She has the apparently sky high ambition to want to save so her children can get an education.  Hers is a heartfelt plea that will fall on deaf ears.   She can’t make headway earning just above the poverty minimum wage of $15.25 per hour.  It is a heartfelt plea by a real worker in the real world of struggle employed by a public institution with the power to change that.  Yet that institution distances itself and oversees growing inequality where now there are almost exaclty as many people on more than $100,000 per year as there are on less than a Living Wage of $19.80 per hour (1912 above; 1840 below) and where an astonishing  $60,000 pay increase for the chief executive this year must somehow have been deemed reasonable. This is the same CEO, Stephen Town, who said the “ramifications” of allowing Albert Eden swimming pool attendants to be paid a Living Wage would “have untenable consequences for me as the employer of council staff.” (NZ Herald). That is somehow deemed reasonable too.

Where institutional power is so comprehensively unresponsive to the citizens, the voices of opposition must be organised and that organisation sustained.  Calling our elected leaders to account takes resilience and that means grounding organisation in institutions – the institutions of civil society: workers through unions, congregations through churches and communities through the diverse groups that seek to mediate the challenges facing citizens in a modern world, such as the Migrant Action Trust and Papatuanuku Kokiri Marae.

An organised voice is not a flag without a bearer, it is not even a duly elected representative with a flag; it is the sustained commitment of an organisation to educating, leading and repeatedly mobilising large numbers of people around the issues that we all care about in the hope that the power of that collective force will enable citizens to penetrate the fortresses of our modern democratic institutions, such as Auckland Council, so Lupe, and others like her, can realise their dreams.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com


  1. Sorry Annie, you’ve got no leverage.

    Unions are just SO last century darling!

    Instead I propose that instead of being perpetually angry, you channel your energy into persuading the Lupe Funua’s of this world not to have children if they can’t afford them and to encourage them to get an education in order to earn more.

    Best wishes


    • Must be hard to type with your head firmly inserted where the sun doesn’t shine Andrew. I doubt your name is Andrew, just a sychophantic try-hard Nat troll, trying to disparage the name of Andrew Little.

      Still, the echoing vapidity that reverberates the cavity where your head now resides, represents the icy souls of neoliberal bastard and their trickle-down bullshit economic theories worldwide.

  2. This government, corporates, developers and others like them take advantage of the limited time and money groups and individuals opposed to their plans have to protest, take court cases etc. It’s one of their major weapons and they even use against the opposition.

  3. Where, oh where is New Zealand’s Bernie Sanders? He or she is so desperately needed right now so as to gain traction and profile for 2017.

    He or she is certainly not presently in parliament but they are out there – somewhere!

    Where are you?

    Please put up your hand and lead us out of this increasingly filthy quagmire.

    Your country needs you – NOW!

    • There can be only one Sanders.

      He protested segregation 50 years ago by chaining himself to a black woman. In many ways Sanders is still shackled to her. Sanders is unique in the way that out of all the activists that has ever been in all of history. Only Benie Sanders made it.

      Here’s some footage of Sanders chained up with some narrative from Killer Mike: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4G4RFH2Qo1E

      • What the Panamanian leaks need to find and elaborate on, are links between the proceeds from sale of various sovereign countries’ state assets and individuals with links to neoliberals in Governments hell-bent on selling off the owned property of the people and voters of those respective countries.

        Assange could do this with Wiki leaks. It should be easy to follow an electronic trail back to the banking robbers and their blind trusts. There’s always a trail somewhere.

Comments are closed.