Comment: Port dispute web of loyalties takes wide catch

Labour Party leader David Shearer has finally been drawn into the Ports of Auckland dispute which involves the Maritime Union of New Zealand, contributors to the party coffers.

So far, Mr Shearer had been content with letting labour relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton put out press releases on the issue.

Ms Fenton and Auckland-based list MP Jacinda Ardern have been on the picket line, Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford has attacked Auckland Mayor Len Brown on the Red Alert blog and Dunedin South MP Clare Curran announced her support for the union on Twitter yesterday.

The pressure has come on Labour, founded from the trade union movement, after ports management decided to make nearly 300 workers - union members - redundant and contract out the stevedoring on its two container wharves.

Mr Shearer's contribution to the debate was to say he was "very disappointed" by the decision and went on say it would cost millions of dollars in redundancy payments and will have a huge effect on the workers and their families.

Political sources told the Otago Daily Times that Ms Fenton was being given a clear direction on what she could say regarding the ports dispute.

Labour's big concern is about the wider casualisation of labour that is being also considered at the Talleys-owned Affco meat plants. The Oceania rest-home dispute is another area of concern for Labour.

Mr Shearer is likely to soon be leading a campaign for his party on "Casualisation - how can you feed your family for a week?".

The Maritime Union of New Zealand and the Meat Workers Union were regarded as strong enough, with enough resources, to take on the campaign of casualisation being put in place by major employers, sources said.

Instead, Labour will focus on winning back the support of people who had worked in the past for the organisations like the former Post Office, or latterly for Telecom, who were now sole contractors - the small business drivers for the economy.

Unions still represent a substantial number of Labour Party members but the party is seeking to widen its appeal to small business owners who might have been union members in the past but were now small business people doing their own bookwork.

The Greens have been backing the unions consistently in an overt attempt to take votes from Labour. Co-leader Russel Norman said the ports action set a terrible precedent for all workers in New Zealand and like Mr Twyford, he had a swipe at Auckland Mayor Mr Brown.

"The Mayor of Auckland Len Brown and the Auckland council have sat on their hands over this dispute for too long. It's time for Mayor Brown to take a stand in support of the workers that voted for him," Dr Norman said.

The difficulty for Mr Brown is that he wants a greater financial return from the port, which is owned by the council, to fund his inner city transport dreams. The union contributed to his mayoralty campaign but on current thinking, he might face a candidate from the Left at the next election when he was that candidate last time.

Tamaki Makaurau MP and Maori Party Co-leader Dr Pita Sharples is also "extremely concerned" at developments in the Auckland waterfront dispute.

"The escalation of this dispute is not good for anyone. Auckland must have a businesslike port to support its economy, but we cannot sacrifice the wellbeing of families to achieve that. A new attitude is needed," he said.

"We do not want workers and management fighting each other over a shrinking pie. We need the parties to pull together to compete more effectively for our city," Dr Sharples said.

With Prime Minister John Key effectively saying the Government will take a hands-off approach to industrial disputes, Mr Shearer has to front up to voters or lose another round to the Greens and others.

He needs to also abandon Mr Brown, if that is what it takes, to keep the faith with Auckland voters.

dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

 

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