GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – Today is Labour Day


Today is 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.

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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.

36 years on Labour now says it has seen the error of its economic ways, but it has really only been the advent of Covid-19 that has forced them realise that governments ought to be active in the marketplace because trickle down theory where pampering the rich will somehow help the poor doesn’t work.

Certainly if Labour continue to refuse to implement the recommendations of their own tax reform working group then I ‘m not optimistic the many are going to start benefitting from our economy again instead of a wealthy few.

And … I don’t expect to see a return to the 40 hour week anytime soon.

Damn it. 🙂

If you ARE getting a break today -Great! Have a good one!

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.


  1. Thanks for this. Labour Day is the most anachronistic of the holidays, even more than Queen’s Birthday. People have to remember to be more than human resources for it to be more than a museum piece.
    But then public holidays themselves are strange in a lot of ways. And privilege Christianity too. I saw something about proposal to make Dilwali a holiday, likely post-ramadan (name?) too. Moveable feasts like Easter. Matariki is cestially (if not lunar) determined as well. The entire statutory holidays calendar could be systematically overhauled, but is unlikely to get more than piecemeal attention.

    It would be nice if Labour Day meant more to more people though.

  2. Thanks Bryan, good post, I hope you get a break sometime soon.

    It really speaks volumes to me that this site currently has your contribution only , and the standard a small post with currently 3 comments, on Labour day, from the wing of politics which supposedly champions the rights of kiwi workers.

    If you want to depress yourself, read how many posts on these sites champion the “rights” of those who want to immigrate here, beneficiaries, elderly, women, LBGTQ, vs working people and how many are nakedly anti working class men.
    We see the local union talking heads on here championing foreign worker rights to the detriment of kiwis.

    Labour badly needs to change its name.

    A solid economy and society is build around kiwi workers and small businesses who are simply attacked by the left at present.
    A decent tolerant society and social safety net flows from that, it at least it used to.

  3. Lets see those “old” values of worker solidarity and a living wage not as quaint–but as a target to aim for in 2020 as we drive an Uber, battle WINZ abatement rates and stand downs, or try and get more hours in a precarious job with a bullying boss.

    Lets get those Fair Pay Agreements happening–it will raise the wage floor for everyone–and lets get some more class left people into all levels of the trade unions so something can be done to restore the NZCTU to a working class leadership role rather than Labour Party tailists.

    Neo Liberalism reduces almost any human activity to the status of a transaction; real life has determined in business speak that it is not “fit for purpose” it should be retired for good. Starting with the NZ Public Service–remove neo lib managerialism, and transform Govt Depts to a service model!

    Happy Labour Day!

  4. “So what went wrong?”
    Well, like all Kiwis, we’re running around in the dark with our heads buried in the sand.
    If we thought we had a choice would we continue to do that?
    Probably, would be the solemn answer.
    It’s why that is, that’s the makings of a documentary.
    How did we ‘Kiwi’s ‘ become so compliant? So fatalistic when it comes to protecting each other and ourselves and never thinking to demand those things and environments which are rightfully ours. Not theirs.
    ( Example: Meridian energy ripped off its consumers to the tune of $80 million dollars. Nothing has come of it as far as I know.
    Electrical ‘retailers’ can’t tell you what they do to provide OUR electricity to the plugs and yet they demand huge money for doing literally nothing and if we don’t pay, THEY cut off OUR electricity to us. )
    I worked with a film director once named Craig Zobel. He was a lovely fellow and we quickly found common ground and had many fun conversations.
    He wrote and directed a film titled ‘Compliance’ and based on true events of a weird phenomenon whereby nutters would target women in middle management then manipulate them mercilessly for frisson’s and giggles only understood by those same mad bastards.
    ‘Compliance’ seems dull and slow moving at first but is in fact chilling and unnerving.
    And on that note, you do realise @ BB that there are more than one or two financially powerful industrial psychopaths out there enjoying the manipulative power they can wield over us normal people while designing our working lives, the way we live our private lives and the psychological parameters they sell us to live and work within. They’re commonly known as ‘neo-liberals’.
    We, are not in control @ BB. I know you know that but I can’t help myself.
    When [they] shout “Jump!” how about instead of asking “How high? ” we should ask ” Why?”
    Sun Tzu ? Art of War? “Know your enemy.”

    • Excellent blog you have there about the Film “compliance” contryboy.

      The ‘corporates use this as do the insurance inustry’ both use ‘compliance’ to bully the average citizen into accepting anything they want,- and is jsy words as a toool for leveraging power.

  5. When I lived in another country “May Day” was the day of celebrating workers rights even though for most of that time we lived under the oppressive racist rule of a conservative party, May 1, remained an important date, as much as the government attempted to change the meaning of the holiday.
    Trade unions & charities chipped in to hire a range of visual, musical & other performance artists and we always had a big parade followed by a giant picnic with live music.
    Speakers would come from all over to celebrate May Day in one of the few places in ‘the west’ where the day still meant something.
    The same could be done here if sufficient people with sufficient resources chose to celebrate Labour Day.
    Pick just one maybe two spots around Aotearoa and encourage everyone who can to join in and have a party. IMO that is a far more effective method of showing how people’s rights impact upon their culture than a thousands conferences or ‘protests’ with the same old faces droning on and on.
    As people become more conscious of the holiday & what it really means, employers will find it increasingly difficult to give two fingers to their staff and remain open.

    • When I arrived in NZ in 1972 there was a picnic in our local park but it faded out over the years. When shops opened Sundays I had friends who were Christian and they were told they did not have to work but they soon realised they were overlooked for advancement in the firms they worked for. We were mislead by those that said we needed to be open weekend for the tourists but many European countries still close down on a Sunday .

  6. Labour Day seems as meaningless as Christmas and Easter. All have a history, all rendered a nonsense in the end. A bit like the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy. Fairy stories!

  7. I don’t know quite when it happened and I’m sure someone will correct me but maybe sometime in the eighties, possibly when interest rates were 15% and rising, both partners had to work to pay the mortgage. The retailer’s were no different and we’re happy to open during weekends and holidays. Since then the celebration of labour day has been a crock. Just another excuse for the money go round. The dynamics have changed with part time work and working from home. It’s like Xmas, Easter , queens birthday and what the proposed Matariki holiday will and has become. A time when some lucky ones will celebrate and others will work their arse’s off.

    • Somehow, my recollection is that you might need correcting. Even though interest rates were 15% and both partners had to work to pay the mortgage, they were not also buggered by excessive duopolies and monopolies elsewhere in the economy.
      Now, people are not only buggered by unaffordable housing, but also by ridiculous food prices, energy prices et al.
      2023. The clock is ticking and unless Labour are prepared to expend a bit of what the buzzards describe as ‘political capital’; IF they don’t reform the civil service that’s hell bent on telling us why things can’t change rather than exploring ways to make change; IF they don’t appreciate the “demographics” that put them in power but who’re disadvantaged in terms of home ownership and leading the sort of lives their parents did………….. Whoooooooooooooar! wooden wanna B in their shoes.
      Were we not a yea/nah sort of sussoighty, it’s the sort of thing revolutions are built on. Which is not to say it couldn’t happen in the future if and when things get really desperate for the masses.
      Sumthinks gotta change (in this space going forward).
      I’ve planted my rhubarb and I’ll probably be watching it all play out, eating it with a bit of acidophilus yoghurt as Jacinda does her best, or angles for a job at a failing U.N (with references from H1), while Clarke with an ‘e’ does the fishing, and begs for funding from NuZullnonEar to make some deep and meaningful fishing docudrama (based on a proven formulaic realityTeev-driven programme offshore). I’m thinking I might even throw in a Kiwifruit or two in the mix – if there have been enough slaves around to rescue the leftovers of the crop sold on the local marker. If not – it’ll have to be one or two grapes and left-overs from a Marty vinyardv – once a post-election shindig are up for grabs. Pretty sure I can get a ute to drive them over the hill before its next WoF is due
      There is ekshully an alternative.
      Labour could return to its rootings, and be bold. Surely by now there’ve been enough learnings to know the things that have seriously gone wrong over the past 3 decades

  8. Excellent blog you have there about the Film “compliance” countryboy.

    The ‘corporates use this as do the insurance industry’ both use ‘compliance’ to bully the average citizen into accepting anything they want,- and is jsy words as a toool for leveraging power.

  9. Man stands on the Petone, wharf. Saying to the new comers, there is 24 hours in a day,eight for work, eight for leisure, eight for rest. Wonder what he would say today, join this union list and stand up.

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