Labour’s support not taken for granted

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This week the wheels came off the ‘Jacinda Ardern express’ with backlash against a perceived pay freeze for public sector workers who are ironically also called public servants. They are the working class loved by Governments in times of crisis, but dismissed as ‘bureaucrats’ when austerity ideologies demand sacrifices. An earthquake of anger shook the social mediaverse, I saw disavowals, membership cancellations, renouncements of support from even the most faithful. Labour were seen to sell out their key constituency, public sector workers and unions, and to undermine the good faith provisions of collective bargaining.

Grant Robertson’s justification of the perceived pay freeze carried no weight. To say the unquantified savings were required for a rainy day were insensitive and ill placed – because if this current crisis of capitalism isn’t a rainy day – what is? A pandemic; a health system near collapse – even without Covid; key electoral promises unaffordable; a housing crisis of epic proportions; homelessness and the band-aid responses inhumane and unsustainable; a biodiversity and climate emergency; inequality at ever greater scale. Meanwhile debt is comparatively low, the Government’s books were healthier than expected, the economy and employment are relatively booming. But government workers shall earn relatively less, because there might be a rainy day? It was poorly communicated policy at best, unnecessary at least – and definitely unkind.

A week on, Jacinda herself has stepped out of this policy’s shadows to lay a calm and reassuring hand on the situation and to offer reassurance that it never was a pay freeze, there are still pay scale advancements, negotiating to be done, and there is an opportunity to review.

The Government heard the angry response – both online over the weekend, and through meetings with unions today. Sensitive to public opinion and perhaps surprised at the public perception and mood, they are keen to convey a more nuanced position about what’s ‘really’ involved. What has been surprising all round, is that they lost control of the message to start with. If it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, and the policy is a conservative one with little real change for workers, then why did it feature at all, given the amount saved was unknown. If it really was a wage freeze – as it seems, and the Government wants to reduce equality, then it doesn’t make much sense to include middle income earners rather than to focus on those at the top who earn the disproportionate most. It was both an unusual misstep upon supporters, and an unusual miscommunication. Was this policy and its response just a rare political mistake, hubris; a clever strategic move given the Fair Pay Agreement announcements; or is the response an overreaction, public dissatisfaction and mid-regnum fatigue?

Nonetheless, there’s been a bounce back on social media, the faithful are returning. There were some lovely Mother’s Day pictures of a card Neve made her mum, and the wedding is planned for summer. There’s still a truckload of goodwill.

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Jacinda may rue – and disavow certain words from her lexicon in the future – including transformational, nuclear-free moment, light rail, kiwibuild, delivery…(though that will be hard with the new PMO delivery unit). Even though we’re heading into winter, after the political storm of the past week, ‘freeze’ may be added to that list.

But words matter –  Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern will hope their reframing of the policy proposition as to ‘lift (the lowest paid) /adjust (the midrange- $60-$100k) / and hold (those over $100k)’ pay, to address ‘inequality’ will gain traction. Public service pay rates can drive inequality, but it’s not the $60-$100,000 per annum wages that are doing that, it’s the $100,000 to $800,000 plus. Sure they are included in the ‘hold’ but when you’re earning more, the proportionate hit is less and the inequality remains.

The evidence that the Government’s policy was taken in bad faith by even devoted supporters shows their loyalty and that support shouldn’t be taken for granted. But that the pay freeze was suggested in the first place shows that Labour’s support for the interests of labour, can’t be taken as given either.

16 COMMENTS

  1. I’m picking this unnecessary own goal by Labour will see a drop in the polls.

    Combined with Nationals scare mongering Maori sovereignty campaign, and mystery leaks from within government, (is that related to the wage freeze?), Labour didn’t really need this right now. Yes it may have been a distraction method, like a sledgehammer to kill a fly type distraction, but its drowned out some good things from the government too.

    The fact Jacinda had to come out as you say, speaks to how out of hand this got.

    And it remains to be seen if the wage freeze is really off or just off the front pages!

  2. Will public servants vote for National/ACT, not vote at all or vote for the Greens? National/ACT now calling for the gutting of the public service (ACT alternative budget.. JC bemoaning 10,000 extra bureaucrats) as that is what they stand for: smaller Govt and the transfer of public services to the private sector for profit making. Not voting or voting Nat/ACT could well see the end of your job. Voting Green or Labour will see status quo. What to do if you are a public servant? Still a long way to 2023 but this was poor decision making and even poorer communication. Must do better.

  3. Labour cannot have it both ways, you cannot please everyone without ruffling some feathers but one has to be tactical and do ones homework. The current public sector backlash is of there own doing, they have not done there due diligence. Timing is critical particularly when you want to implement change and now is not the time. To make matters worse our borders are now open (with the Aussies) making it much easier for our public servants and others to jump ship. Whilst our public sector does need a shake up and more so in some areas than others, the way they have gone about it has been shoddy and impulsive. We know from past experiences that rushed policy is not best practice, it is short term thinking. Our Aussie mates have just announced they are going to spend billions to lift and invest in their economy, this is smart move. Despite us having a much smaller economy I think we need to do the same especially while money is much cheaper to borrow. I think we need to invest extensively in NZers to help build more sustainable businesses. We need to focus on quality, something we do well. We also need to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to looking after our environment we are slipping in this area and this is one of our crucial assets. If we invest heavily in our environment this could be our saviour. I know Grant Robertson wants to keep our debt levels low but as I have mentioned above in order for us as a country to go forward we must implement change. Change will come at a costs again this may ruffle feathers but the long term benefits will pay of. The alternative is a country under a right wing government where success requires us to have huge inequalities. And I am sure most NZers do not want to go there, we have seen what has and is happening to many countries being ravished by Covid particularly when you have such a huge divide. The socio economic divide can become a huge barrier to overcoming epidemics and dealing with global financial crashes whilst also impacting negatively on a countries ability to be successful and prosperous where all its citizens have the opportunity to thrive.

  4. Labour cannot have it both ways, you cannot please everyone without ruffling some feathers but one has to be tactical and do ones homework. The current public sector backlash is of there own doing, they have not done there due diligence. Timing is critical particularly when you want to implement change and now is not the time. To make matters worse our borders are now open (with the Aussies) making it much easier for our public servants and others to jump ship. Whilst our public sector does need a shake up and more so in some areas than others, the way they have gone about it has been shoddy and impulsive. We know from past experiences that rushed policy is not best practice, it is short term thinking. Our Aussie mates have just announced they are going to spend billions to lift and invest in their economy, this is smart move. Despite us having a much smaller economy I think we need to do the same especially while money is much cheaper to borrow. I think we need to invest extensively in NZers to help build more sustainable businesses. We need to focus on quality, something we do well. We also need to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to looking after our environment we are slipping in this area and this is one of our crucial assets. If we invest heavily in our environment this could be our saviour. I know Grant Robertson wants to keep our debt levels low but as I have mentioned above in order for us as a country to go forward we must implement change. Change will come at a costs again this may ruffle feathers but the long term benefits will pay of. The alternative is a country under a right wing government where success requires us to have huge inequalities. And I am sure most NZers do not want to go there, we have seen what has and is happening to many countries being ravished by Covid particularly when you have such a huge divide. The socio economic divide can become a huge barrier to overcoming epidemics and dealing with global financial crashes whilst also impacting negatively on a countries ability to be successful and prosperous where all its citizens have the opportunity to thrive.

  5. Those from the right who were hoodwinked by the rhetoric at the last election are heading back to National and act as we speak. The lack of transparency, honesty, kindness and simply a plan are the reason. You can’t be transformational if you’re trying to keep debt down while changing the way the country finds solutions to all the environmental and infrastructure issues. The Government would have to be prepared to spend if it had the confidence of any plan it has, but it won’t because it doesn’t have a plan. Those on the left that could never bring themselves to vote National will vote for more of the same.

    • “Those from the right who were hoodwinked by the rhetoric at the last election are heading back to National and act as we speak.”

      What a load of cock!

    • What the hell are you talking about, National’s supporters & Base are haemorrhaging & going over to the slime ball David Seymour & his demented Act Party whose sabotaging National’s voter base by splitting the vote of the Right! National are finished, they have no plan, their all piss & vinegar & bullshit? And Labour does have a Plan, its just the implementation that’s the problem? The whinging & whining from the right defies belief, just go & compare the Labour Govts performance with other Countries during this Pandemic, Labour is the envy of the World! So go & flock back to National, but I can’t see them winning a Election for years to come because they are a load of Neoliberal garbage with nothing to offer, they are old, pale & stale bunch of white privilege cronies & are lead by the most hated, woman Politician in NZ, crooked Judith Collins, the Bridges crusher! Here’s a scenario, just consider this, if your beloved & pathetic National Party had’ve been in charge when COVID had hit NZ, we’d have ended up like India, Brazil or America with a infection & death rate to equal theirs! National in charge, no thanks, give me Labour any day!

  6. I am sure people voted in a Labour government in the believe it would support the working person to get ahead. It is no wonder there is so much anger aound as the person in the street can see no hope and the government out of touch with even those that are part of their core support in the public servic

  7. Wow, I never thought I’d ever get to the point where I would prefer to be in Australia than here.. As one who has dealt with, and knows a few people who work for the government (no names, The Key era nasties are still in charge), It has become obvious that something had to be done to bring the civil service under some sort of rational control.. The Finance minister, at the least, understands well now, who the real saboteurs are, and that they needed to be sidelined before any real progress was made.. Any surprises that a group of well connected career “civil servants” have used the colonial press to attack the policies from a purely selfish perspective? Any surprises that the colonial press has gone completely over to rewriting reality for the sake of political expedience on behalf of the very people who encouraged what amounts to the destruction of our social infrastructure, and basic services… So now we have everyone here running around like chicken little screaming blue murder for the sake of a few seat warmers that are responsible for countless acts of unnecessary cruelty, and heartlessness.. Where have all the smart ones gone? Oh right, they left when I did.. The only reason I’m here at all is because of being trapped here after coming home for family reasons.. Not impressed an any way at all… Think about that for a minute. The Australians are actually showing more rationality than NZers.. How does that make you feel?

  8. I think its even simpler to think of it like this.

    “We paid-out(off) our core voters with $100,000 per month in House Flipping Profits over the last 12 months.
    Many of them are ‘you’ and or your employer.
    We gave you a couple of bucks during Covid 2020 to keep you going and, be able to pay off your mortgages and you should be glad that we didn’t throw you under the bus like we did to the beneficiaries and the poor, and the homeless and kids too!

    So, shut the fuck up and be grateful!”

  9. I feel like I was conned into voting for a fraudster. Never again. I cannot afford to house my family anymore.

  10. There are just too many fuck-ups piling up and too little achieved. I predict the next election will be like 2017 – National will have their core 45% back and Labour will have 37…38%, maybe 40%. But no Winston this time to anoint the hapless student leader. I don’t think that ACT with 10% will anoint her. It will fun to watch.

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