Red Shift: Labour Reorients Itself Toward Small Business

30
0

unnamed
RICHARD HARMAN writes approvingly about Labour’s turn to the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector. His latest Politik Blog entry covers Labour’s second “Future of Work” conference, held in Wellington last Friday (26/8/16) which he sums up with the sentence: “Labour is beginning to sound like a more entrepreneurial small-business friendly party as it digests the results of its study into the future of work.”

The “Future of Work” (FoW) project has been Grant Robertson’s baby ever since Andrew Little pipped him at the post for the Labour leadership in 2014. As an idea, FoW promised much. Initiated with radical intent it could easily have grown into a broad investigation into what twenty-first century workers expect of their employers, their workplaces, and paid employment in general. Such an investigation could have identified both the good and bad of contemporary employment practice and provided a compelling snapshot of what working life is like, 25 years after the Employment Contracts Act, and what it could look like in the future.

But that is not the direction in which Robertson opted to steer the FoW project. Rather than focus on the work people do, the conditions under which they’re required to do it, and how much they’re getting paid for it: the details of working life in which the Labour Party has, for the best part of its 100 year history, been most interested; Robertson and his team opted to take the technocratic route.

Instead of asking: What are New Zealand workers experiencing now? And: What tools do New Zealand workers need to ensure that their future work experiences are better, not worse, than todays? The key question of Robertson’s FoW inquiry has been: What must Labour do to guarantee employers a steady supply of productive workers as New Zealand and the rest of the world enters the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Rather than making the FoW project about empowerment, Robertson chose instead to make it about facilitation.

Which is where Labour’s turn to the SME sector enters the picture. As Harman notes in his Politik article: “Though the fine print has still to be delivered, the general thrust of where the party is going marks a substantial break with its big-industry oriented past.” Or, to put it another way, the Labour Party which Robertson is shaping, rather than being a vehicle for the needs and aspirations of factory workers, construction workers, shop employees, office workers, hospitality staff, transport operators and general labourers, will instead become the party of highly-skilled STEM workers, creatives and professionals.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

This represents a major shift in Labour’s class allegiance: one which can only lead to a radical re-ordering of the party’s priorities. SMEs are no less grasping than large enterprises when it comes to divvying up the fruits of their employees’ collective effort. Indeed, they are often much worse. About this aspect of small-scale capitalism, Robertson and his team have little to say.

They are considerably more voluble, however, on the subject of self-employment. As Harman puts it: “Perhaps the most radical impact of the study has been a recognition by Labour that particularly young people have a “tremendous desire” to be their own boss.” We are not told whether these young people’s aspiration to become their own boss is matched by an equally strong determination to become somebody else’s.

The power relationship between employers and employees is still the principal driver of capitalist social relations. It also supplies the underlying logic of capitalist politics. Labour’s core mission, as a political party, has been to reshape New Zealand society in ways which ensure that the power relationship between bosses and workers is as equitable as possible. Crucial to that mission has been the trade union. What Harman failed to notice (or perhaps he did notice, but considered it unimportant) is that in Robertson’s 3,431-word opening address to the second FoW conference there is not a single reference to the institutions out of which the Labour Party was born.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, at least as far as Grant Robertson is concerned, trade unions have nothing to contribute to the future of work – or workers – in twenty-first century New Zealand.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Kinda missing the point this guessing of what the future workforce might look like … after the crash. There will be no reinvestment in technology and development of reinventing the wheel. Back to manufacturing the physical products we’ll need to rebuild the economy & its infrastructure from the ground up.

    • I think you have missed Chris’s point – that Labour appears to be moving further and further away from its founding principles and philosophy.
      Labour started this under Lange. I went with New Labour, then Alliance.
      Because I live in a marginal electorate I have given Labour my electoral vote, but never my party vote.
      I hope that Labour will make clear that the implications Chris sees are not the way the party is heading.
      And please let’s have no nonsense about Chris’s ‘poisoned pen’. It is disinfecting daylight that Chris provides, and Labour need to show what they stand for.
      I was proud to vote for Norman Kirk. Can Labour give me that pride again?

      • Let me guess, there may be a huge lot of SILENCE by Grant Robertson, Andrew Little and the rest of Labour (certainly their Caucus) when it comes to this post by Chris.

    • Politicians miss the point on everything. Especially the coming crash.

      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” -Upton Sinclair.

  2. I have been in small business all my last 40yrs of my life and today under national we have so many compliance rules under the National Party administration to the point that is becoming impossible to operate these business’s sometimes.

    National have “reformed” most of business today in their time and almost all other business folks we hear are so pissed off by the bloody red tape NatZ have placed on small business today.

    Key lied in early 2008 before the election when he pledged to remove all the rules that govern our lives and make our lives easier to live and he has gone instead the direct opposite way.

    Only when you look at the corporate and large business world in NZ we see key has relaxed only their government regulations at the expense of adding more to all small business’s.

    • The biggest irony is that National always promises to reduce red tape and bureaucracy, whilst adding more and more. Yet somehow it is always Labour and the Greens that are credited with nanny state building.
      Another myth perpetuated and enhanced by our gullible MSM.

    • …and today under national we have so many compliance rules under the National Party administration to the point that is becoming impossible to operate these business’s sometimes.

      I’m of the opinion that National’s doing that on purpose. Kill off the small businesses so that large foreign corporations can make a higher profit from the NZ and the serfs that we’re becoming under National.

  3. Never been a fan of Robertson’s flaccid vision of lefty professionals who care so much for the underclass they don’t want to live near them let alone interact and engage with the great unwashed. Bourgeois spineless ignorant and self serving a neo liberal in a pink tutu. Can’t stand the prick!

  4. Unions could have something to contribute to the future of work – but they themselves as institutions will need to significantly change to be relevant.

    The monolithic inflexible ideologically driven union models of the past simply won’t cut it in a rapidly changing technologically driven future work environment.

    Unionists will have to tolerate union free start ups and understand that many employees these days know their value in the job market and are quite capable of negotiating their own remuneration packages and work conditions- especially younger workers (who by the way would probably struggle to describe what a union is)

    Current trade union models are simply irrelevant.

  5. Nice work, Chris. Not surprised – the bourgeois Labour of today has an allergy to the working class, it seems.

  6. “What must Labour do to guarantee employers a steady supply of productive workers as New Zealand and the rest of the world enters the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Rather than making the FoW project about empowerment, Robertson chose instead to make it about facilitation.”

    “…the party of highly-skilled STEM workers, creatives and professionals” (I ask: Paid by whom, paid for what price?)

    “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, at least as far as Grant Robertson is concerned, trade unions have nothing to contribute to the future of work – or workers – in twenty-first century New Zealand.”

    (all the above quoted from Chris’ post)

    So, with all that enthusiasm shown by Mr Harman and some others, I suppose we can then prepare for the renaming of “Labour” into “Labour Hire NZ Inc” or “Labour for Your Needs at any time at any place, for a good price”?

    And NO mention of the word union, wow, could it ever have become more obvious that Labour has now totally disconnected itself from it’s own origins.

    I would rather see a society where workers’ rights are enshrined in a charter of rights for all workers, guaranteed by law, like minimum wage, maximum required hours per week over a reasonable term of employment, and freedom to organise, and also participate in business – besides of the bosses.

    So what is the benefit of voting Labour in future, I wonder?

  7. Trade unions should align themselves with the Green Party which is much more supportive of the union movement

  8. I am also very intrigued by this, Matt McCarten going to set up a special Labour Party base in Auckland, to prepare for and campaign for the coming elections in 2017:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11701516

    Will the former Unite leader and unionist now become the political gigolo dancing with the middle class small to medium size business entrepreneur, trying to charm them, and the professionals that live and work in Auckland?

    Are the South Auckland service workers going to be used to usher in Labour candidates as MPs to get that needed extra bit of representation to jump across the hurdles in late 2017?

    There seem to be more questions than answers.

    • “A wise person is silent and rarely wants to show his wisdom. A fool is always vocal and uses every opportunity to show his foolishness.”

      • Pure rubbish Nick,

        Read my post!!!!

        I have lived in four continents operating small business for decades and only now in NZ under ‘your’ government, NatZ, is it so hard to run small business now.

        With all your “Reforms” we see you voting on every day in Parliament you are constructing furiously!!!!

        So wake up man and get a real job, and reverse the mounting beaurocracy and government regulations upon SMALL BUSSINESS that is strangling US ALL.

      • “A wise person is silent and rarely wants to show his wisdom.”

        That is a sexist comment since the word “His” so do you propose we never speak up about all the corruption and crime, or human rights violations we see daily????

        Perhaps you are saying a joke right?

        Like a monkey “no see, no hear, no say, no do”????

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_wise_monkeys

        Chinese are you quoting here????? No thanks leave it in China where the communist rule.

  9. NZ has about 16% of its workers in unions. Scandinavia varies between 50% and 70%. Where unions also provide superannuation vehicles, workers become investors as well as wage earners and since investment income has been outstripping wages for years now, unions that invest for workers are the real means for the creation of egalitarian societies. Greater union membership is also associated with higher productivity since central wage bargaining has less productive firms either shape up, ship out, or fail. How does the Labour Party miss that?

    • Labour’s gum boots stuck too deep into the neoliberal mud, so it cannot pull it out again, that seems to be the reason.

  10. The world IS changing and the human race is really in uncharted territory, and that is in more ways than one. We face a future that offers little in the way of “work” as we know it because of technology, we face having to face our own overpopulation of the planet, we see a planet that we have managed to degrade so much that it could very well be very close to a tipping point, from which there is not much hope of return. All any of us are doing in our attempts at crystal ball gazing, is hazarding guesses as to what might happen.
    My answer to this, is that the technology that produces our “stuff” that we know longer have to contribute effort to, should belong to the collective, so that from that can come a UBI and from that can come people pursuing other small enterprises among themselves. From that I would guess come a new form of capitalism would probably grow, just because we are what we are.
    If we don’t sort this and cling to an antiquated capitalist system as it is today, there is only one end result, to my mind, and that is all out war. I fear we may not be all that far from that.

  11. It would be interesting and amusing to see any of the current crop of Labour leaders try to engage with SMEs.

    Not a single one has any business experience, or even any work experience outside of government & unionism.

    • Oh really, what do you call “business experience” or “any work experience” then? Teaching, being school principal, being consultant, manager, advisor, also business operator and so forth, being just some of the professional activities and experiences of the Labour MPs is not “real work”, I suppose.

      http://www.labour.org.nz/mps

      Maybe you forgot to click the “Read more” template, that is provided you even bothered looking up details on Labour MPs.

      • Sorry Mike, but taking a monthly cheque from the government isn’t quite the same as making your way in a commercial environment.

        I’m sure many of these civil servants are dedicated, hardworking and intelligent people in their own way but most would simply not connect with a typical business owner. Most can be spotted from afar by their ‘government-speak’ vocabulary.

        One of the problems Labour faces today is the dire lack of talent in its ranks. Most of the incumbent MPs have either been there far too long or have been imposed on the party by the unions. Unless it gets an infusion of smart energetic people, it’s going to wither and die.

        • Reading your comment, it becomes clear to me that you have STILL NOT clicked the ‘Read more’ buttons!

  12. A small population a long way from everywhere else, it is no surprise that, even beyond other countries, where the trend is also in this direction, New Zealand is a country of small businesses. Even in our largest business: farming, each individual outfit is still a pretty small business. The massive factories and heavy industry of the Northern hemisphere bred a Union structure which was never a perfect fit with New Zealand business where traditionally the workers knew their boss and had to rub shoulders with him or her on a daily basis. It is therefore no surprise that the usual blandishments of industrial strife are not front and centre of the FoW brief.

    What is worth noting is that the facilitation of a comfortable fit between work opportunities and skills works to the benefit of both a business owner needing skilled employees and the worker wanting to maximise his or her earning potential.

    As the need for niche services increases, the scale of start-ups will likely be smaller rather than larger. And inspiration may well trump perspiration in finding those opportunities. Today’s egocentric world of Twitter, Facebook etc signals that self-generated work will inevitably be on the increase, whether that implies the need within individual start-up businesses for employees or not.

    The irony is that if there are even fewer big employers, who is left to be forced to give their workers a better deal? And how can workers be brought to see that their interests and that of their employer are not the same? For staunch advocates of fifties-style industrial relations like Chris Trotter it may be a little galling.

    While the development of anti-collective individualism will likely see an expansion of Uber-style self exploitation in the work environment, the trick will be to devise new industrial relations templates not to confront this Brave New World but, to be realistic, to help workers survive within it.

    As is always the case, we can chose either to work within the world as it is becoming, or try to make the world conform to the solutions we would like to apply.

    Which do you think has the best chance of applying effectively to our future?

  13. Labour’s core mission, as a political party, has been to reshape New Zealand society in ways which ensure that the power relationship between bosses and workers is as equitable as possible. Crucial to that mission has been the trade union.

    That’s what it was and, to some degree, it was successful. Today we need to be looking at other tools to achieve the same end.

    A UBI would be a massive equaliser between bosses and employees. Employees would be able to afford to go on strike or even simply to walk away from a bad employment place. The UBI and the internet allows them to give factual critical feedback on why they walked away thus informing others that it’s probably not a good idea to apply to work there.

    What Harman failed to notice (or perhaps he did notice, but considered it unimportant) is that in Robertson’s 3,431-word opening address to the second FoW conference there is not a single reference to the institutions out of which the Labour Party was born.

    Just because he didn’t mention them often doesn’t mean that he’s not supportive of them.

    • Oh, should have mentioned that another way to empower workers is to promote cooperatives. Remove the bosses altogether.

Comments are closed.