Workers and their unions must defend right to free speech

By   /   August 10, 2018  /   10 Comments

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Unionists the world over have been victims of the lack of free speech in societies run by and for the wealthy 1%.

Unionists the world over have been victims of the lack of free speech in societies run by and for the wealthy 1%.

Establishment forces dedicated to protecting this elite have been able to use their domination of the media and control over governments to target unions and left-wing movements often associated with the union movement for attack or, in worst case scenarios, their complete destruction.

Right-wing political forces, use any division in society they can to undermine and destroy our movements.

This includes all forms of racism, sexism, national chauvinism, or other forms of bigotry. These forces want us to hate and fear “others” rather than link arms to fights against all forms of inequality and
oppression.

This is clearly true today in many parts of the world. These are dangerous trends and should be combatted.

Working people need to unite in our millions to mobilise political and social movements to combat and defeat these forces.

We cannot do that by asking our own elite establishment and the governments that represent them to ban the right to speak of bigots and racists.

This is a foolish and naive demand. The most cursory examination of history shows that trade unionists and political radicals in nearly all progressive struggles have had their right to public expression curtailed, and have fought strenuously, courageously and ingeniously to exercise that right. The proposition we should consent to the state having to censor at will is fundamentally flawed,  relying on the liberal assumption that governments only become more progressive over time. To think the precedent to censor and suppress wouldn’t be ruthlessly used against progressive and radical voices on the left in the future is extremely naive.

State and institutional suppression of speech is also self-defeating. Right wing provocateurs rely on, with great success currently, official attempts to ban their events and propaganda. The resulting
publicity greatly magnifies their reach to a wider population generating, often sympathetic exposure in mainstream media that would simply not otherwise be available to them. Challenging and opposing
political views and movements is very different from suppressing them.

Challenging works if done successfully and can be harnessed to build progressive movements. Suppression, on the other hand, usually results in a false sense of achievement from the establishment as communication is driven underground and through new channels.

States, governments and ruling classes that exist in class-divided societies will always defend their social and political power against the interests of the big majority of humanity. They inevitable create
and defend the inequality that breeds the hate and fear that right-wing, racists and other bigots take their inspiration from.

Ultimately, in some societies that have reached crisis point, the elites will encourage fascist forces to take arms against the majority and physically destroy the labour movement and all democratic
institutions in society. If the labour movement has previously consented and even demanded the state have and use the power of censorship and suppression, it will be a devastating weapon for such a
repressive regime.

The labour movement will need to take up that challenge with political, social and physical force on our part to defend democratic rights and social institutions like unions and political parties.

Being ready for that challenge is undermined by naive and miseducating demands for this state to do this job for us today or in the future when the danger could be multiplied many times over.

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About the author

Mike Treen

National Director of Unite Union

10 Comments

  1. Joe22 says:

    yeah definitely!

  2. Heather says:

    Agree entirely. But why, then, was Unite leading the protest against having Brash talk and attempting to shut him down on stage? Keep the resistance outside would have been better!

  3. WILD KATIPO says:

    There is a huge difference between Lauren Southerns message of social division, racism, and the unrest that it would inevitably cause if allowed to germinate, – and that of the trade union movement.

    First off, – much of Southerns hate is directed towards an ethnic and religious group. Trade unionism is not.

    Secondly , – a large part of Southerns message is premised upon the very ‘American’ original ‘war on terror’ , – and that country’s unilateral decision to invade Iraq . The anti Muslim fervor so strong in America is a fervor not shared by most New Zealanders . Thus the message and the premise it is built on is largely irrelevant to NZ. She was in fact , simply importing a viewpoint from another country that is not shared here, – in fact was deemed ‘unsavory’.

    Lastly , – Southern was a foreigner. New Zealanders have a right as a sovereign nation to decide who and who does not cross our borders. And if her message was deemed unsavory, we as a people have every right to deny her or others like her access. America and Canada reserve the same right. Why should we be any different?

    Don Brash is a NZ citizen. He has every right to speak because of that and because what he says has relevance to race relations and the evolving of that field whether we like what he has to say or not. And we have every right to debate him , and reject what he says as a fellow citizen. Don Brash is relevant to NZ , Southern is not.

    A good litmus tests to perceive the end result or fruits of a persons message and if those fruits are either good or bad. The fruits of Southerns message are racial division , rancour, discrimination , – and , – if left unchecked, – physical violence. We have a right to deny her entry.

    Trade unionism , on the other hand, has many good fruits including social equity , equality , fairness in remuneration in exchange for time/ labor, enforcement of safe practice, job security and so on and so forth.

    The Police will often intervene when an individual is deemed as rabble rousing that seems destined to cause physical harm in a street protest. They do that to diffuse the situation to keep people safe. The message Southern presented seemed destined to legitimize in some peoples minds active racial discrimination that all too often leads directly to physical violence.

    The question is : Long after Southern had left these shores and forgotten about NZ, – would she really have gave a damn if people were harmed in our streets as a result of her incitements?

    I think not.

    As always, look at the fruits of a persons message. Ask yourself,.. are they good?… or bad?.

    The trade union movement with its leveling and beneficial effects for all people is in no way similar to the destructive message of a racist like Southern and her mate, – in fact , the exact opposite. It draws people from all backgrounds together.

    Southern simply divides people.

    Technically , – whether we like it or not , – we had every right as a sovereign nation to deny access to Southern on the grounds of unsavory character. It is to our credit that we chose to be more tolerant and even allow the possibility of her to come here and spout her racist tirades.

    In that , – we were more the defenders of free speech than she and her right wing supporters ever were.

  4. e-clectic says:

    Well said – it’s a two edged sword.

  5. Andrew says:

    Working people need to unite in our millions ….

    So you have a job Mike?

  6. David Stone says:

    My support also.
    D J S

  7. Richard Christie says:

    Well put.
    Now, please explain it to Mr John Minto.

  8. Andrea says:

    What ‘trade union movement’?

    Which ‘trades’ are unionised? They, most of them, seem splintered.

    When the oldies from Europe headed into retirement, and joining the union was no longer compulsory – our wonderful (sarc) tradies quit the unions in droves, reckoning they could bargain and barter on their own behalf. Didn’t they do well?

    If that’s the language we’re still using then it’s time for an overhaul.

    I’ve been a union rep in more places than one, and helped with a bid for better pay. Have you any idea how ‘roll over dead’ Kiwis are? How absolutely useless at negotiation? How abject and fawning?

    It’s a plant that never really took here, based on results. Even when work conditions have passed the U-bend, the very idea of getting together to form an equal negotiating power at the table…yeah, nah. She’ll be right. Don’t upset the boss, eh.

    And the ‘Labour party’ – left wing?! One pinion feather over the centre line. They’re cosy and neither confrontation nor effective bargaining is in their genes from recent times. Anyone who does get usefully stroppy is shouted down, hung out to dry, and sent into the political wilderness. That’s how disunited Labour was, is, and will always be.

    Nine long years in Opposition. What exactly did they do? How did they use their contacts and position to help offset the miseries being inflicted? How many of the Auckland coterie went to meet ‘their’ constituents beyond their comfy offices? How many of them went out into the wilderness like Winston Peters – to listen and speak with? Hmm? In all the time I’ve lived here I have yet to see my MP on the doorstep. That’s fair a-many election cycles.

    We don’t do ‘union’ – just hook ups and one night stands. Once the itch is scratched we all move on, back to being hardy battler fools.

    First step – we have no ‘trade union movement’. Let’s proceed from there, with the materials and situations we have. A definition of what we’re about would be also be a huge step forward. Perhaps the intention to dissolve neo-liberalism and the cult of ‘only look after number one’ so we can face the Very Big Challenges united and interdependent – for a change.

    Remember, we’re generally not the sort to put life on the line for freedom and rights. Are we…

    • Andrea, what you say is observable at the place where I work. It saddens me. A work mate has been bullied by the proxy boss (ie a principal – as they have the day to day running of the sausage factory delegated to them by a board of trustees) since late last year. A few months ago it became legal with the Govt/taxpayer paying the legal fees of the bullying principal and PPTA subscriptions paying for the workers lawyer. Things drag on and on, the principal does not follow through on steps forward agreed to by both legal teams and there seems to be no avenue available, or will to ensure that the principal complies. And out of a staff of over a hundred most of whom are paid members of the PPTA only about ten people are willing to show this worker support at fallacious disciplinary meeting. Most are either too scared to be seen showing support for a colleague or just dont care. And what have the PPTA been doing for years? Certainly not fighting back against the toxic cultures that exist in many of our nation’s schools. The Ministry of Education are not interested in stamping out bullying, by extension NZ governments dont care either. How is it that the principal of an Auckland school with a roll of over 2,800 students can be excoriated by the Employment Relations Authority, cost the taxpayer over $350,000 in payouts for wrongful dismissal and legal fees and still be allowed to run the school? Why are the PPTA not involved in fighting against this kind of thing? Is it because it is confused as to what it’s purpose is? It is hard to know as when I question PPTA head office I am met with defensiveness. And what of the cowed membership? Some are bought off by management whilst still remaining PPTA members and there is no willingness to end their membership as it isn’t nice, or that’s not how we operate!

      So Andrea I totally understand this, ‘Have you any idea how ‘roll over dead’ Kiwis are? How absolutely useless at negotiation? How abject and fawning?
      …. Even when work conditions have passed the U-bend, the very idea of getting together to form an equal negotiating power at the table…yeah, nah. She’ll be right. Don’t upset the boss, eh.’

      I understand that unions were strong and members were aware that in unity there is strength, in between the 1950s and late 1970s/early 1980s. Perhaps there is hope for a rebirth?

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