It’s Labour Day again – 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 equality of opportunity and 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 – 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.
Then in 1991 National introduced the Employment Contracts Act that made Union membership voluntary . It immediately undermined the power of collective bargaining and as a result we have become a low wage economy
And why did we buy into all that? Well I am ashamed to say that it is largely down to the self centeredness of my generation – the baby boomers- whose parents and grandparents worked so hard to give us the opportunities in life they never had. And when we were given those privileges on a plate – affordable housing, free education, free health care, we spoilt post -war brats allowed ourselves to be wooed by Margaret Thatcher , Ronald Reagan and Roger Douglas and the politics of selfishness, into believing that the rights of the individual were far more important than the rights of the many. That a ME society would be a far better place than a WE society.
So we pulled up the economic ladder, and denied our children those state provided privileges we ourselves had enjoyed , with the result that , for the first time in nearly a hundred years, today’s generation of young people will be generally worse off than their parents.
Labour says it has seen the error of its ways. Well, we shall see.
Certainly by voting in some co-alition of the left next year is the only way can restore some semblance of fairness back into our society. Until then – please think of the person you meet over the counter today at any of the retail outlets and working on this ” Public Holiday”- who is very probably earning the minimum wage and unable to make ends meet.
And let’s relabel today as Labour Memorial Day for there is more to mourn than celebrate.