Any last hope that the Sixth Labour Government was still operating on behalf of the New Zealand working class was dashed earlier this week by the announcement of new working visa rules. “Up to 30,000 businesses across the country will benefit” from Labour’s latest kick to the guts of the marginal workforce. This essay explains.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway claims that the new work visa rules will “assist between 25,000-30,000 businesses to fill shortages.” Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media is spinning this as a victory for New Zealand businesses, which it undoubtedly is. What they don’t mention, however, is how it’s a commensurate loss for the New Zealand working class.
As this page has previously pointed out, the wage of working-class people is a function of the supply of cheap labour. Increase the supply of cheap labour, as the “Labour” Party have done here, and you weaken the bargaining position of the working class. The more cheap labour there is, the greater the choice for the employers – and they will choose the cheapest labour they can, this being one of their greatest expenses.
The way the economy is supposed to work is that labour shortages force businesses to increase the wages they pay, which leads to marginal workers becoming attracted to those offers. The way the economy works in Clown World is that labour shortages cause employers to go crying to the Minister of Immigration, who fast-tracks visas for cheap labour to move here and undercut the native working class.
The sad truth is that the Labour Party is just as neoliberal and just as beholden to corporate interests as the National Party is – and neoliberals love mass immigration. The only difference is that the Sixth Labour Government is willing to throw the working class a bone in the form of a Winter Heating Allowance, a referendum about cannabis law reform or a bit of money to our mental health system (or what passes for it).
When it comes to actually running the country, however, they’re still very much in bed with the large New Zealand employers, and they still run the country more or less on instruction from those employers. The sad irony is that there was once a time when the Labour Party did stand for the New Zealand worker, and would have heavily criticised a move like this had it been National who brought it in.
Today’s Labour Party is unrepentantly the heir of Rogernomics. Protecting the negotiating position of the New Zealand worker is of no interest to them. Neoliberalism is still very much the way forwards, and the ever-rising suicide rate just something to be shrugged off, despite that adverse economic conditions contribute greatly to it.
The New Zealand media plays an essential role in manufacturing consent among the public for moves like these. Being entirely owned by foreign finance companies and banking interests, the media is beholden to people who profit handsomely from mass immigration driving up housing prices, increasing demands for mortgages and lowering wages.
This is why the media constantly runs stories with titles like “Growers say fruit will rot unless govt speeds up migrant worker decision,” “Labour shortage as Auckland construction ‘goes off’,” and “Why horticulture industry is facing a labour shortage.” These stories are effectively propaganda pieces, run on behalf of corporate interests, to massage the New Zealand population into accepting the mass importation of cheap labour.
Notably, no trade unionist was asked for their opinion on the Government’s move.
One of the stories linked above quotes ACT Party leader David Seymour as saying there simply aren’t “enough New Zealand workers willing to pick [the fruit].” This is a complete lie, because it leaves out half of the equation. Seymour’s sentence makes no mention of the wages being offered. The full sentence should read “enough New Zealand workers willing to pick at the wages being offered.”
Seymour, the consummate neoliberal, loves nothing more than importing cheap labour for the benefit of capital interests and at the expense of the native working class. As Dan McGlashan showed in Understanding New Zealand, no other party has a higher proportion of foreign-born voters than ACT, with a correlation of -0.74 between being born in New Zealand and voting for ACT in 2014.
Short-term opportunism can be expected of Seymour, who knows no loyalty other than to the dollar. It’s a real shame when this mentality guides the actions of the supposed social democrats. If the Labour Party won’t take measures to strengthen the negotiating position of the New Zealand working class, then who will?
The alliance of politicians, corporations and media make it all but impossible for the New Zealand worker to get a fair deal today. Given that the cost of housing is rising much faster than wages, which are already nowhere near high enough to buy houses on, a fair deal seems like it’s getting even further away. An entirely new socioeconomic arrangement is becoming necessary, perhaps one based around a universal basic income.
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