The Dim-Post

September 28, 2011

Various positions

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 7:15 am

I went to Te Radar’s Eating the Dog at Downstage last night, and, as is customary when you get free tickets to something and it turns out to be good, I recommend you go and see it. The show is a stand-up comedy routine in which the material is drawn from New Zealand history, and watching it I was reminded of Bill Bryson’s latest book which is a history of domestic homes.

See, some people see history as the words and deeds of great men, and Marx teaches us that it’s the operation of economic forces and clashes of classes, but Bryson points out that history is mostly just billions of discreet human moments and lives, which generally aren’t all that tragic or dramatic, but are often absurd and comic. That’s roughly the approach Te Radar takes to New Zealand history

~

Meanwhile, Trotter blogged a few days back about the wonders of compulsory unionism. Funnily enough, I’ve just started reading Margaret Pope’s book about her time in the Lange-Douglas government. On, I think, the second page she explains that as an educated, urban liberal female in the 1970s, she voted for the National Party because of her intense dislike for Labour’s policy of compulsory unionism. I guess Trotter would reply that Labour could do without the support of urban liberals (their current core demographic), because they’d be a ‘workers party’.

This perpetual fantasy about a ‘workers party’ (see, also, some of the Mana Party rhetoric) is based on the same misconception as the religious parties that occasionally flare up: people look at census results and think, ‘Look at all the people who identify as Christians/earn low incomes! If we get their vote we’ll be in government!’

But it’s not the 1930s. We’re an individualistic, post-industrial nation. People don’t see themselves as ‘Christian’ or ‘working class’ in a political sense. We’re no longer ‘labourers’ – we’re human capital, or, to put it another way: our poor aren’t poor, they just haven’t made their first million yet.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a place in politics for improving the lot of ‘workers’ – just that unions are no longer the way to go about it. We have a political party (Labour) who are supposed to advocate for these sorts of policies – and they did get us that fourth week of compulsory holidays – but on the whole they’re pretty quiet on this front. Back in government they talked about compulsory redundancy, which would be tax-free, but they had better things to spend their time on, like regulating light-bulbs and shower-heads.

My theory is that Labour are reluctant to pass too much ‘pro-worker’ industrial legislation because that undermines the power of the unions, who fund and support Labour. There’s no point in paying a union fee if there’s a political party who will act directly on your behalf.

~

The new Fairfax poll has the Greens on 10% and Russel Norman registering as preferred Prime Minister for the first time, albeit with 1.7%. We keep hearing about how the media will only focus on trivialities and so the public are ‘switched off’ to politics, but the Greens’ radical strategy of releasing policy and talking about things they think are important seems to be playing out pretty well.

~

In the same poll National is at 54.3% and Labour 28.1%, proving that if you offer people a small bag of cat-shit and a large bag of dog shit, they’ll generally, reluctantly, take the smaller bag. And then the people trying to give away the dog-shit will cry, ‘Don’t you know that small bag is full of cat-shit? Wake up!’ And people like John Armstrong will write ecstatic columns about how New Zealanders love bags of fragrant, wonderful cat-shit. You get my point.

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40 Comments »

  1. “…Bryson points out that history is mostly just billions of discreet human moments and lives…”

    And this is history in what way? It is history, i suppose, to the individuals and their families. But the idea that the boring existance of nobodies somehow makes up the bulk of history is complete rubbish. Julius Caesar? Just one dead white male! Now here is the herstory of a completely insignificant woman on the Syrian frontier where nothing happened either during her lifetime or for one hundred years either side. Sure, social history as a clue to why things occur has a place, but that is about all. Let’s face it. Almost all of us will be forgotten as individuals within a hundred years of our passing, for the good reason we did nothing really notable.

    “…But it’s not the 1930s. We’re an individualistic, post-industrial nation. People don’t see themselves as ‘Christian’ or ‘working class’ in a political sense. We’re no longer ‘labourers’ – we’re human capital, or, to put it another way: our poor aren’t poor, they just haven’t made their first million yet…”

    You know, this piece of nonsense actually closely relates to the ridiculous contention that as individuals our history actually amounts to anything. Capitalist propaganda tells the big that under it, we are important and we want to believe that propaganda, willing fools in history and in workplace. But it isn’t true, it is just a propaganda message, the triumph of the capitalist will. The above quote isn’t a statement of any fact; It a statement of prejudice – a babbling of the received doctrine from the most fervent of its acolytes – a comfortable middle class professional.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 28, 2011 @ 7:35 am

  2. *Capitalist propaganda tells the big lie…

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 28, 2011 @ 7:37 am

  3. Ah! I see the analogy now, the Greens must be planning on handing out small parcels of sustainably harvested kokako shit to potential voters in urban liberal centers such as Wellington.

    Comment by little_stevie — September 28, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  4. Sure, social history as a clue to why things occur has a place, but that is about all.

    You’re dreaming, mate. You’ve completely misunderstood what “social history” means, and it looks like you’re trying to reconcile it with “great man” theories somehow. In social history, nobody cares about random individuals like insignificant women on the Syrian frontier – it’s a bit more akin to Marxist class analysis, really, in that it focuses on groups and demographics and such at looks at their role in society and how they shape it. But Great Man theories of history that talk about how important Julius Caesar was have been sneered at for something like 100 years now.

    Comment by derp de derp — September 28, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  5. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a place in politics for improving the lot of ‘workers’ – just that unions are no longer the way to go about it. We have a political party (Labour) who are supposed to advocate for these sorts of policies

    Ha! Unless every single aspect of the employment relationship is completely controlled by the government, then individual employers will try to shit over their workers every chance they get (of course, that can still happen if the government controls everything, but from that point ‘state intervention’ cease to present itself as any kind of solution). Look up what ‘the lot of workers’ is like in non-union and union jobs, respectively. I’m afraid that as a “comfortable middle-class professional”, as Sanctuary put it, you’re somewhat divorced from the real world.

    My theory is that Labour are reluctant to pass too much ‘pro-worker’ industrial legislation because that undermines the power of the unions, who fund and support Labour.

    It’s the unions that like to take the credit for convincing the government to pass “pro-worker” (or, at least, not as anti-worker) legislation, and they’re usually right, too. Labour are reluctant to do too much on this front because they’re a centrist party and they don’t want to come off as “anti-business”.

    Comment by derp de derp — September 28, 2011 @ 8:08 am

  6. I never said the study of groups and demographics isn’t relevant history. And reading about what sixteenth century peasants had for breakfast in Kent is rivetting stuff for some of us on a rainy Sunday afternoon – it certainly sells lots of books anyway.

    But the idea that the details of the unrelenting normality of our daily lives is somehow important is just another conceit of our age of extreme individualism. The historical phenomena of interest for future historians won’t be your life – but it might be how how much we all like to think we were important illustrates our times.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 28, 2011 @ 8:22 am

  7. the Greens’ radical strategy of releasing policy and talking about things they think are important seems to be playing out pretty well

    It is. But if Labour had released a jobs plan as full of wishful thinking as the Greens’, they would have been crucified.

    (disclaimer: might still vote for the Greens because, you know, all the other options)

    Comment by bradluen — September 28, 2011 @ 8:28 am

  8. “…Labour are reluctant to do too much on this front because they’re a centrist party and they don’t want to come off as “anti-business”…”

    Yeah, how we all forget the winter of discontent in 2000 – when the bosses threw a hissy fit because the country dared throw out the loathed Shipley government, and basically told the newly elected Labour government that it had better tow the line or face a revolt of the capitalist class. Sure, Labour may be centrist – but the idea that that a left wing party can actually make serious, structural change simply by winning an election is a laughable putting of the chicken before the egg.

    Capitalism needs to be faced down on the streets before there can be meaningful political solutions to its excesses. And that is why there is so much fear and loathing of powerful and militant workers organisations. Properly organised, they are the only external actors to the elite establishment.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 28, 2011 @ 8:30 am

  9. Also the decline of unions is very directly related to the increase in inequality over the last 20 years. If you’re going to bemoan inequality yet assert that unions aren’t a major part of the solution, you’d better have some pretty great ideas.

    Comment by bradluen — September 28, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  10. Greens polling 10%? Same old same old. Them actually getting anywhere near that on election day, now that will be the true surprise. Green Party Guilt among voters comes to the fore on election day

    Comment by Brad Gibbons — September 28, 2011 @ 8:38 am

  11. but they had better things to spend their time on, like regulating light-bulbs and shower-heads

    Like a lot of chippy middle class Kiwi males you probably bought into that bullshit big time in 1998 and that’s why you ended up voting for Key. Now you are going to vote Green? Please explain.

    And people like John Armstrong will write ecstatic columns about how New Zealanders love bags of fragrant, wonderful cat-shit. You get my point.

    So Labour just need to get jaded Herald Columnists on message and all will be fine and dandy and they’ll be polling at 40% the next morning. Well thats that sorted then.

    Comment by The Fox — September 28, 2011 @ 8:39 am

  12. http://www.countercurrents.org/hedges190310.htm

    Kind of sums up this post really.

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 28, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  13. 1998 = 2008 doh!

    Comment by The Fox — September 28, 2011 @ 9:23 am

  14. Unless every single aspect of the employment relationship is completely controlled by the government, then individual employers will try to shit over their workers every chance they get.

    Unless you are talking about the ‘employer’ as an abstract entity, this is rubbish.

    As individuals, very few human beings try to stick it purposefully to other human beings. Unless of course, they are sociopaths.

    It’s when that direct ‘fellow feeling’ is removed by the artificial institutional constuctions of government and incorporation that people get shat on as those who hold power are isolated from the repercussions of their actions.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 28, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  15. But the idea that the details of the unrelenting normality of our daily lives is somehow important is just another conceit of our age of extreme individualism.

    No it isn’t. The boring details can be used to understand wider social phenomena. For example, looking at what ordinary people ate on a day to day basis can illustrate class systems and help explain revolutions, migrations, the progress of wars and so forth (see John Burnett’s Plenty and Want for the classic version of this sort of thing – it’s very good). Even the life of an undistinguished individual can cast a lot of light on wider issues, or at least doubt on generalisations.

    Also, it’s ‘toe the line’, not ‘tow the line’. The metaphor is supposed to be a group of people lined up in a neat row (ie with their toes against a line on the ground), not someone hauling a rope. (Not as bad a mistake as ‘a hard road to hoe’, though – why the f*ck would anyone hoe a road?)

    Comment by helenalex — September 28, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  16. @ Fox

    Dim only bought it cos that’s what Labour were selling – “Lights out for the incandescent bulb” http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0806/S00228.htm

    Comment by insider — September 28, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  17. I have read two origins of toeing the tow line. Both are nautical. Tow the line can refer to a rope towed by ships (tow being also a term for a rtype of natural fibre used to make a rope – so reinforcing the meaning). Toe the line is aparently originates in barefoot seamen lining up on a wooden man-of-war. the idea is the same though.

    And anyway you are missing my point. A boring life of no real interest is a boring life of no real interest. That said boring life’s gravestone sayshe/she died of a bad diet at a young age IS of interest – as you say, it might “…illustrate class systems and help explain revolutions, migrations…”

    Comment by Sanctuary — September 28, 2011 @ 9:54 am

  18. Unless every single aspect of the employment relationship is completely controlled by the government, then individual employers will try to shit over their workers every chance they get.

    I question this too. I’ve never had this experience. Most employers I’ve dealt with (quite a few) are ordinary people trying to work together to succeed, and god enough to provide workers with employment.

    Comment by Pete George — September 28, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  19. Type, meant “good”, they are not that good.

    Comment by Pete George — September 28, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  20. Dim only bought it cos that’s what Labour were selling – “Lights out for the incandescent bulb”

    I think they thought that they were dealing with grown ups here, after all a right wing Australian government passed a similar law a couple of years earlier without anyone crying.

    Comment by The Fox — September 28, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  21. The problem with unionisation is that while it began as a collective working on behalf of the workers, as the unions have grown, they have simply evolved into yet another big entity that care less about its individual members and more about the entity itself.

    And THAT is largely why compulsory unionisation failed. The “workers” found that the union was not working _for_ them. Big unions and big companies were colluding, or the union bosses decided to strike regardless of the pain it caused workers.

    I agree with Pete George, but only so far as small and medium sized companies. Once the company gets over a certain size, then the “employer” doesn’t really know you, the individual worker.

    So it is not so black-and-white simple as some of you make it out to be. Life rarely is.

    Comment by David in Chch — September 28, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  22. @sanctuary Have you heard of something called archaeology? As an archaeologist, I would be interested to hear whether you think the discipline has any merit whatsoever.

    Comment by Lucy — September 28, 2011 @ 11:11 am

  23. I found that most people were in unions because it was the minimum energy path, not because of collectivism benefits. Once people had the option of not paying union fees, but still having similar employment terms and conditions, that became the cheaper and more preferred option for many.

    Individual contracts allow people to have bespoke employment agreements that match their current, perhaps changing, lifestyle, and they don’t really care about irrelevant potential benefits that accrue after 10+ years, or at retirement.

    Labour’s target market may be about as large as the polls indicate.

    Comment by Bruce Hamilton — September 28, 2011 @ 11:23 am

  24. @ Sanctuary

    no-one can be said to have a boring, uninteresting life now we have facebook and twitter, and multitudes of friends and followers.

    Comment by insider — September 28, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  25. Have you heard of something called archaeology? As an archaeologist, I would be interested to hear whether you think the discipline has any merit whatsoever.

    Only if the archaeological evidence indisputably proves that those capitalist pigs put themselves against the wall in a paroxym of class-guilt when the Revolution came, eh Sanc.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 28, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  26. David in Chch wrote: “Unless you are talking about the ‘employer’ as an abstract entity, this is rubbish. As individuals, very few human beings try to stick it purposefully to other human beings. Unless of course, they are sociopaths.”

    true, but lots people are not employed by individuals – they are employed by companies. And the economic factors motivating companies can often lead to them behaving in a sociopathic manner. Obviously every action of a company is a decision made by an individual, but usually it is not a decision freely made by an individual – it is constrained both by economics and our social construct of the role of the corporation.

    Comment by Kahikatea — September 28, 2011 @ 11:54 am

  27. the details of the unrelenting normality of our daily lives

    Yes, and my point was that this (what Danyl descibres) has nothing to do with social history.

    Comment by derp de derp — September 28, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

  28. true, but lots people are not employed by individuals – they are employed by companies. And the economic factors motivating companies can often lead to them behaving in a sociopathic manner.

    The classic example is making people redundant at Christmas, which is a completely rational thing to do, because it means you don’t have to pay staff for a bunch of statuary holidays. It’s a horrible thing to do, but it makes perfect economic sense, so it happens all the time.

    Comment by danylmc — September 28, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

  29. Most employers I’ve dealt with (quite a few) are ordinary people trying to work together to succeed, and good enough to provide workers with employment.

    Of course. Employers aren’t cartoon villains. But there are incentives at work: the employer is better off if the employees work longer hours for shorter pay. At the individual level this becomes more difficult to see, because most people are, when you get down to it, nice people. But the opinions and actions of individuals aren’t really all that relevant.

    Comment by derp de derp — September 28, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  30. “See, some people see history as the words and deeds of great men”

    You know I studied history for four years and I never once encountered this attitude among potential historians.

    Non-historians are constantly discovering it’s not true and behaving as if they’ve discovered how to split the atom, though.

    Comment by Hugh — September 28, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

  31. But there are incentives at work: the employer is better off if the employees work longer hours for shorter pay.

    Only in the short term, or if there are strong incentives to keep working regardless of conditions (as in the USA and China). To be “successful” this needs to be done in a structural way across a whole society, and there need to be limits even then or you get the Spanish/Russian/Argentine/French solution.

    And also, having seen my family farm go to the wall because of insane interest rates in the 1980′s, this wasn’t what I remember happening. We kept paying our workers right up to the point where the bank took over, and we paid them the going rate including bonuses. It didn’t affect our financial position one bit, the farm was going under at that point regardless. Having the employees (including us) work longer hours for lower wages would not have affected the outcome (unless they paid us, and paid us very well, for the privilege of working. Which, in a way, was what my family was doing – the farm was more of an expensive hobby at that point).

    Comment by moz — September 28, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

  32. @ Kahikatea

    I think you meant me rather than David and I totally agree with you (as I tried to cover off less eloquently in the subsequent para within comment #14)

    @ Danyl

    The classic example is making people redundant at Christmas, which is a completely rational thing to do.

    Actually I think this is a bit of a myth. The PR fallout tends to be enormous.

    Comment by Gregor W — September 28, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

  33. And this is history in what way? It is history, i suppose, to the individuals and their families. But the idea that the boring existance of nobodies somehow makes up the bulk of history is complete rubbish. Julius Caesar? Just one dead white male!…

    Sanctuary, you have misunderstood. Two contrasting ways of looking at the same event are:

    “In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia…”
    or
    “In 1812 an army of over half a million Frenchmen and allies invaded Russian…”

    The idea of the second view is that “what a short Corsican ordered” is not very significant. What is more significant is “what half a million soldiers actually did and why”. History is what the soldiers did, not what Napoleon ordered. It is in fact the opposite idea to the idea that what individuals do or do not is significant in history.

    Comment by Richard — September 28, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

  34. There’s room for a Workers Party in New Zealand politics, very much so.

    A Party that will:
    1. Raise the minimum wage but also ensure that there is provision made in employment law to ensure that all wages go up a proportionate amount to every increase in the minimum wage
    2. Ensure that employee-initiated mediation is cheaper than the $70 it currently costs
    3. Reduce personal income taxation for those on low incomes
    4. Legalise cannabis, so workers can have fun on weekends (Don Brash, this is where you come in)
    5. Ensure that employers have to legally pay double time plus a day in lieu to employees that work public holidays
    6. Reduce the current 90 day work trial to no more than 60 days and ensure that companies have a good reason not to employ someone, if they decide not to take people on

    Comment by Betty — September 28, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

  35. Like a lot of chippy middle class Kiwi males you probably bought into that bullshit big time in 1998 and that’s why you ended up voting for Key. Now you are going to vote Green? Please explain.

    I don’t know how Danyl voted in 2008, but +1 on the rest. The so-called controversy over energy standards was constructed horseshit and Danyl really knows that.

    FWIW, here’s the Green Party’s position on the issue immediately before the 2008 election:

    http://www.greens.org.nz/factsheets/cross-govt-faqs-cfls-eco-bulbs

    When the Greens say it, it’s deeply principled. When Labour say it, it’s political ineptitude, arrogance and an appalling lack of self-knowledge. Sigh.

    Comment by Russell Brown — September 28, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

  36. “When the Greens say it, it’s deeply principled. When Labour say it, it’s political ineptitude, arrogance and an appalling lack of self-knowledge.”

    The political ineptitude was in Labour’s mishandling of communication when implementing the policy. They allowed National to frame it as Nanny State, they failed to communicate the principles behind it and thus was the horseshit able to be constructed. The greens didn’t wear the fallout because their supporters understood and were on board with the very good reasons for the policy. Labour’s problem then and now wasn’t so much what they were doing as how they were selling it (in a very different political market to the Greens).

    Comment by nommopilot — September 28, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

  37. Worth noting that corporations increasingly tying managerial pay to bonuses and stock options encourages the kind of short-term thinking (as noted by moz) that leads to slashing labour costs whenever any justification presents itself. Though the change in incentives has had probably a minor effect compared to the change in balance of power between workers and bosses.

    Comment by bradluen — September 28, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  38. Betty’s comment #34 demonstrates nicely what’s wrong with the current left. Her comment is shaping up to make good sense, appearing well thought through from an electoral point of view, but then comes:

    4. Legalise cannabis, so workers can have fun on weekends (Don Brash, this is where you come in)

    Flaky. Puts the voters off every time.

    Comment by annie — September 29, 2011 @ 8:32 am

  39. I’m not a politician, annie … just an ideas person with a dry sense of humour

    Comment by Betty — September 30, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  40. We have a form of compulsory unionism in this country. You want to join a collective contract, with all its goodies, you join a union. If you think that you can do OK on an individual agreement, don’t join one. Its just that if you have trouble with your boss, the union wont have anything to do with you.

    Comment by millsy — October 6, 2011 @ 12:43 pm


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