Yesterday was Labour Day – the Public Holiday set aside to celebrate the rights of workers and in particular the right to an 8 hour working day.The great irony is that like many New Zealanders I am working today because I’m a contractor and not an employee with rights to holiday pay.
There was a time when all the shops and businesses were closed on Labour Day and parades were held to celebrate the dignity of working people and their battle against exploitation – a day when we trumpeted the 40 hour week, equality of opportunity and the family values that once made us proud to be Kiwis.
So what went wrong? What happened to that New Zealand I grew up in where the weekend really did mark the end of the working week?
Answer – the economics and politics of selfishness.
In 1984 – the Labour Party introduced the economic theory of Neo- liberalism we’ve been living under ever since. A theory that says the state shouldn’t interfere with the financial marketplace, that workers are a “resource” not our friends and neighbours, and the public utilities we all paid for with our taxes could be re-labled as “assets” and sold off to the highest bidder.
An ideology that saw National undermine collective bargaining with the (now defunct) Employment Contracts Act that took us down the path of a low wage economy in which a lot of us are working longer and harder for less.
30 years on Labour now says it wants to practice the politics of kindness.. but they still want to fund it with the economics of selfishness from which the rich benefit at the expense of the many.
So I don’t expect to see a return to the 40 hour week anytime soon.
Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.