Promise Or Threat? How Is Labour’s Future Of Work Exercise Likely To Be Received?



LABOUR’S ‘FUTURE OF WORK’ EXERCISE has received considerable praise from political commentators and economists. The party has been commended for looking over the usual three-year time horizon of the professional New Zealand politician. The journalistic consensus appears to be that even if the Future of Work (FoW) exercise doesn’t glean Labour a swag of much needed extra votes – it should.

Unfortunately, that’s not how politics works. Worthy and future-focused though it may be, FoW is unlikely to exert a positive influence over the voting behaviour of working-class New Zealanders. There have been far too many reports about what ordinary working people must do to make themselves employable in the labour markets of the future. Far too many experts have pronounced upon the revolutionary impact of technological innovation and how it will force workers to adapt – or be left behind. Working people have been hearing this sort of talk since the Rogernomics “revolution” in the mid-1980s, and all it has left them is behind.

Innovation, automation, relocation, globalisation – the driving forces of change are undeniably real, and their impact on the working lives of working people are visible everywhere. The better jobs and the more fulfilling lives that the free-market revolution was supposed to usher in are much harder to see.

When “inevitable” change arrived in small regional centres like Patea, Hastings and Timaru it left far more empty factories and unemployed workers in its wake than it did new, better-paid and more exciting forms of employment. The new jobs did arrive, eventually, but they generally paid lower wages than the old ones and offered workers much less security.

Some effort was made to prepare workers for the brave new world of adaptation and transformation that was rushing at them. The Fourth Labour Government established what were known as Regional Employment and Access Councils (REACs). These were comprised of representatives from the employers, the trade unions and the “community” (whatever that was!) and were empowered to fund employment and training programmes for those without work.

These programmes were a great success. Not because they imparted new and marketable skills to the luckless unemployed and redundant workers funnelled into them by the Department of Labour, but because they created hundreds of state-subsidised jobs for the middle-class professionals who set up the programmes and ran them. (These social entrepreneurs even got to keep the state-funded tools, office equipment and furniture when their contracts with the REACs expired!)

It was a pattern repeated endlessly during the years that followed. As globalisation hollowed out the manufacturing and processing sectors, driving thousands of jobless workers into the new, low-paying service sector, thousands of well-educated middle classes professionals found themselves designing, resourcing and managing the radical re-organisation of New Zealanders’ working lives that the new neoliberal order demanded.

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Which is why, when the conversation turns to the jobs and workplaces of the future, what you hear depends on where you are positioned in the labour market. If you’re a young, highly-educated middle-class professional; or a person skilled in the design and application of new technologies; then the future beckons you forward with a smile. But if you’re a truck driver, or a store-person, then the prospect of driverless vehicles, or robot-operated warehouses, fills you with dread. Young workers have grown up watching their parents being forced to accept lower and lower positions in the occupational hierarchy. Soon, they fear, it will be their turn.

For the working-class voters Labour so desperately needs to return to its electoral fold, the “promises” of its FoW exercise are much more likely to be read as threats.

Bill and Hillary Clinton excelled at extolling the virtues of innovation, automation, relocation and globalisation. Helen Clark was fond of invoking the received economic wisdom that a rising tide lifts all boats. The response of their working-class followers in the years since has been to recite the childhood chant: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

If you want to know what that means in electoral terms, just ask Donald Trump – or Winston Peters.


  1. This is a surprise from CT… NOT. Labour is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    What’s National got for the future for workers Chris?

    • Is damnation enough to get them out of their cosy cocoon?

      Where’s the context? Where’s the positioning of New Zealand in global contribution terms?

      Where are the signals to enterprise and industry – ‘Go this way and we’ll back you with the contributions only governments can make – and that doesn’t mean tax-payer money.’

      Where are the signals to students – these are useful skills and knowings to learn for this time (short) and we’ll ensure you can upskill quickly, soundly, affordably? It surely won’t be ‘tech’ or ‘varsity. Not in the present mindset.

      I like that ‘communities’ contribution comment: so bitterly true. If they’re ‘community’ they largely have to be conformist and status quo. More of the same.

      Does Labour, or the vacuous Greens, have any contacts among the innovators? Any at all? Do they listen and respond in unifying political ways? Well, yeah, but no, but … Oh, dither on.

      • @Andrea
        “Does Labour, or the vacuous Greens, have any contacts among the innovators? Any at all?”

        It’s easy to bash Labour, but at least they are asking the right questions. You can call the Greens “vacuous”, but they have come up with specific, costed plans for creating jobs doing socially and environmentally positive work, rather than just “leave it to the market” to create more casualized, minimum-wage jobs, or well-paid jobs in ecocidal industries like fossil fuel extraction:

        What research are you or your preferred party doing to figure out what unavoidable changes are coming over the next 10-20 years? What policy do they offer by which government could help us prepare for these changes, instead of doing nothing, or making them worse?

      • @Andrea”Does Labour, or the vacuous Greens, have any contacts among the innovators? Any at all? Do they listen and respond in unifying political ways? ”

        I think they do, what makes you think they don’t? Read Labour’s report, clearly they have spoken to many, have listened and resounded.

        What’s National got Andrea?

    • Award winning cook books brim full of interesting and exciting ways to prepare tasty dishes made from grass , – even how to make a world standard kettle full of grass tea as well as alcoholic beverages made entirely from grass and includes also a comprehensive and very informative whole chapter dedicated to ‘ How to feed a family of five on nothing but grass’.

      This is why National had to introduce new legislation concerning Health and Safety for worm farming, – as indeed part of the foreword in that cook book includes the potential protein deficiencies for some individuals of having to exist solely off grass 52 weeks a year… which necessitated the local worm farming industry to up its standards somewhat.

    • The article was about Labour’s approach to its “Future of Work” campaign, not what the government’s doing. Everyone knows the government’s useless. If you want to write something about National’s approach to the future of work then go right ahead. You’ll be risking stating the obvious, but at least you wouldn’t be on the wrong thread.

      • @Chris. it’s called a comparison and I wasn’t being off topic. It is quite reasonable to ask what the current government have got and are there any plans.

        • You castigated the person who had the temerity to criticise Labour, then proceeded to divert the discussion by questioning what the government had done to address the issue.

          My view of National and the government couldn’t be more disdainful. I have not one jot of respect for Key and his bunch of moneymen so I’m in no way defending them. But I have equal disdain for those who cannot deal with even the slightest critique of Labour. And that’s you. You do this all the time. You are a troll for Labour, a shill of the highest degree. Any idiot knows that Key is a nasty piece of trash who needs to go. But you have absolutely no ability whatsoever to discern what an opposition should or shouldn’t be doing. for you, every single fucking thing Labour does is good. You remind me of a complete and utter idiot on another left wing blog that does the same thing. I remember not that long ago how he wanted links to back up a comment that Labour supported a piece of National government beneficiary-bashing legislation, which they did. When it was pointed out to him that it was true, he busily began to try to construct a bullshit argument that Labour was correct to that. That behaviour reminds me entirely of how you are on this site. You are nothing but a pathetic Labour-can-do-no-wronger. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so dangerous. It’s actually people like you who are the enemy because it’s people like you who do not hold the opposition to account to ensure that they deal to Key and his nasty greedy government. It’s people like you who give Labour free rein to do what they like, and because it’s highly likely that Labour are needed to oust this filthy government, that’s the most atrocious crime of all.

          • What a load of rubbish, most of which was long winded unnecessary abuse. Limply calling key and his government “nasty and greedy” is as far as you go, never one to really criticize or hold National to account, you prefer instead, to mindlessly bash and insult ad nauseam.

            • Refusing to address one single thing I said and to choose instead to hypocritically fired abuse without one jot of anything substantial is ALL YOU EVER DO and is why you are nothing but a complete and utter shill for Labour.

          • Lol what a load of rubbish, most of which was long winded unnecessary abuse.

            Limply calling key and his government “nasty and greedy” is as far as you go, never one to really criticize or hold National to account, you prefer instead, to mindlessly bash/insult ad nauseam.

            • How can you hold the government to account without making sure the opposition is doing their job? That’s where you fall over. Accepting everything Labour says and does isn’t holding Key and his nasty bunch of moneymen to account. It’s in fact helping them.

              • Absolute rubbish, and what a cop out that is. Doesn’t wash Chris.
                By the way, our parliament is modeled on the Westminster system, like it or not, the opposition is doing what it is supposed to do under that system.

                • That’s not the point, which is that you will not accept the slightest bit of criticism of Labour. And doing that means that you are failing to ensure that the opposition does it’s job. Exactly the same as the example of someone who will not even go so far as to show disagreement with Labour for supporting government war-on-the-poor legislation. That equates to failing to hold the government account. Address that.

                  • What a load of rot. It is the point and like you never criticize National, nor the Maori party for supporting National’s war on the poor legislation and you never hold them to account. Pretty clear why you don’t.

                    • A load of rot? Put up one link where you’ve either been critical of Labour or shown support for someone who’s been critical of Labour. You cannot because you are a dangerous, lying shill for Labour. You and people like you are the enemy of the left.

                    • You are being ridiculous and talking rubbish. You never criticize National, nor the Maori party for supporting National’s war on the poor legislation and you never hold them to account. Pretty clear why you don’t. You show yourself up.

  2. It’s not about what workers have to do. It’s about what the public sector and businesses need to do to make sure everyone has the ability to participate creatively in their society, and access what they need for a reasonable standard of living.

    Even if it was possible to prevent automated self-checkout in supermarkets to protect checkout and grocery packing jobs, which it isn’t, are these really jobs worth protecting? Exactly the low-paid, service sector jobs you complain about neo-liberalism creating to keep people servile? Automating boring, repetitive jobs is basic humanism, but when the society mandates that only those who have jobs have access to resources, it has an obligation to create new, well-paid work opportunities for displaced workers. That needs a certain amount of envisioning and planning for.

    What would your policy prescription be, Chris?

    • Were moving vicariously towards a single provider model, one company that provides insurance, health, education, food, the works. So yeah. Competition is worth protecting

  3. I said it before, the future of work Labour talk about will hot be a panacea of solutions. It is just talk.

  4. “Working people have been hearing this sort of talk since the Rogernomics “revolution” in the mid-1980s, and all it has left them is behind.”

    Yes, but more and more people can now make sense of that “talk” because more people are experiencing what it’s like being on the receiving end of the inevitable transformation. So that “talk” needs to keep going. There seems to be a defeatist tone to what you’re saying, and I agree that discussing future of work issues hasn’t seemed to show such great tangible results to date but that doesn’t mean we should stop the discussion/lobby. It actually means we need more of it, especially when more people are getting sidelined by by the juggernaut the right-wing call “progress”.

    What the left needs to do is to continue to move the discussion into the mainstream, to get workers seeing that right-wing Keyist economics will not help them, that for many 40 hours of employment a week is a thing of the past etc etc and that government policies and the values that underpin them must reflect this. The challenge is widening and mainstreaming and normalising the issues. Not giving up.

    Here’s a good article on the UBI about the political barriers in the way of wider acceptance and on why these need to be overcome.

    • “Working people have been hearing this sort of talk since the Rogernomics “revolution” in the mid-1980s, and all it has left them is behind.”

      Really? Can you proved some links to those as I would like to read them.

      • What have I said that you disagree with? I’ve read the report probably more times than you have. You come across as a shill for the Labour party. No matter what Labour says or does you defend to the death. Am I correct? How about you provide some evidence to contradict that, Loftie son?

        • No, you are not correct and there’s no need to get angry and abusive. It was a simple question, if you had read the report, and despite you saying that you have. more than me, and I don’t know how you would possibly know that, your comments suggested otherwise. Don’t forget the request for your links as I would like to read them.

          • Have a look at who made the comment. Not only that, but it’s not something that needs to be proved. Chris Trotter made the observation as part of his argument, which I agree with. You can go on all you like with your cry for “links!, links!, links!” but it just makes you look sillier than ever.

              • Read Trotter’s post. He said it – I quoted him, agreeing with it. And it’s not something that needs a fucking link!

                • With all this so called “talk’ what’s the issue with having links to it, you did say you agree with it, yet I found your comment contradictory, you say “more people can now make sense of that “talk” and “that “talk” needs to keep going” then you poohoo a 2 year study, which appears you have not read, becasue it came from the Labour party.

                  • What I said was that more people can make sense of that “talk” because more and more people are experiencing the effects of the changing labour market and as the size of the precariat increases.

                    • And that’s why Labour’s Future of Work is important and would resonate with people, if it is allowed a fair hearing.

    • Which is not new is it? Read that 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors by by 2020. That is why Labour’s comprehensive Future of Work is so important. We can’t just keep sitting on our hands.

  5. Labour may be frustrated that with all their diligent policy development, with all their worthy wonkery, with all their targeted focus-group election inducements, their numbers remain stubbornly unimpressive.

    But there is much to learn from the recent events in the States.

    Mind you it depends who you identify with. If, like some who post regularly, you identify with Donald Trump, (with some strange notion that he is an ally over trade – wrong: Tigers may like to eat sheep as much as you do, but they also like to eat you)…then bombast and lying might recommend themselves.

    Actually what I think we can learn is that policies will only take you so far – or nowhere. Hillary had policy for Africa. What is needed is quite other. The people have to like you, trust you, know that you get them and that you speak from the same place they do.

    The Left have to be present throughout the country all the time, not just at election time. And when there they don’t have to be out doing good. (In fact that just plays into the holier-than-thou stereotype). What they have to do is meet the people: rich, poor, country, town, city, ethnically diverse or monocultural. And then they have to listen to them. And then they have to like them. And then they have to understand them. Eventually the people might start to like them back. Only then and from that sympathetic base, do they have a chance of formulating policy on their behalf that will be accepted and useful. And even then it won’t be the policy that wins the election, it will be all those hard-forged relationships.

  6. I would have expected the Labour party to do some work in this area because they are the only large party that is progressive and forward thinking and is prepared to look at what employment is going to look like in the very near future and opening up the discussion we need to have.

    Apart from the gig economy the need to move in the direction of being sustainable and energy efficient will create jobs in the future and the ongoing ageing population will demand more services as that continues to grow.

    Labour needs to campaign on this but not in a over complicated way.

    Simple bullet points and slogans should help to show they have a plan.

    But workers rights and pay protection must play a part of the future of work in this country.

    • Yes, and that is why the left needs to refocus specific lobbies, which includes the unions reframing its traditional approach. Unions need to now start embracing and fully representing people at every level not just workers who happen to be employed, but every other member of the ever-increasing precariat. The strength of unions has always come from numbers of people. As that group changes then the relevance of unions becomes dependent upon keeping those numbers not only up but relevant. That is why unions at the moment, if they refuse to change, will themselves disappear down the same plughole as the jobs we’re losing every day because technological change and other changes. Unions really do need to get with the programme.

        • Actually there’s both piss poor at managing the economy through chaotic headwinds. They keep taking the economy into areas the voiceless can’t go. No beneficiaries can’t even fill out the forms for the basics of life. Your only concern should be generating good ideas

          • No. What I am saying is that accepting what Labour says and does without a jot of critique, which is what Words does, is wholly destructive. Whenever anyone on this site shows the slightest bit of criticism towards Labour, Words is in there accusing them of failing to “hold National to account” etc. All I’m saying is that by accepting unquestioningly what Labour says and does is not “holding National to account” at all. Holding the government to account includes making sure that the opposition is doing their job properly, and Words does not engage in that practice because he/she is a Labour-can-do-no-wronger. And it is that group that has helped fuck the left in this country.

                • That’s right, it won’t do. But that’s all you ever do. That’s my point. You never hold the government to account because you are not prepared to accept one jot of criticism that might be directed towards Labour. And that is extremely dangerous.

                  • So when an opposition party does dumb things like support government anti-poor legislation then you shut up and say nothing about how that opposition party isn’t doing it’s job because what we should be doing is criticising the government? Explain your logic.

                    • How about holding the Maori party, that sits at National’s table, to account for supporting National’s “war on the poor legislation” How about acknowledging all the times when Labour Greens and NZ First opposed National’s “war on the poor legislation”?

                    • There you go with that lie again, and of course we should critique the National government and hold them to account, becasue they are the government enacting legislation. You would rather not critique the National government, but distract by having a go at the Labour party instead. To quote the following cop out you posted “How can you hold the government to account without making sure the opposition is doing their job” pretty much says it all.

          • Clearly Chris’ response shows he doesn’t think National is bad at all. In fact, he thinks National doesn’t even warrant discussion, and can’t be held to account until after Labour has had a thorough thrashing.

  7. Under 5% unemployment

    And most of those unemployed are unemployable for one reason or another.

    That is the *present* of work

    Let’s be honest – this is just a union movement trying and failing to appear relevant.

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