According to commentator Chris Trotter, who was at the demonstration outside the National Party conference on Sunday, CTU President Helen Kelly apparently drew a line in the sand and announced that the CTU would be holding that line. The National-led Government’s proposed employment law 'reforms' are supposedly the straw that broke the back of the camel. The proof though will be in the pudding.
According to Trotter, Kelly closed the demonstration by announcing that CTU’s National Council would be meeting this Thursday , and that she was sure they’d all be joining the CTU again very soon – 'on the streets'.
This was enough for Trotter to give the conservative CTU President a 'congratulatory bear-hug.' While I can appreciate Chris's undoubted relief in hearing a trade union leader actually sounding like a union leader for a change, Kelly has not suddenly morphed into some kind of working class hero.
Since the CTU has consistently demonstrated that it can always find another bottom line to replace the bottom line it has meekly surrendered, something has clearly pushed Kelly and her fellow bureaucrats into some kind of action.
After all we are talking about the same Helen Kelly who in 2008 castigated the young doctors for going out on strike. She displayed little union solidarity then when she said that she hoped the strike 'doesn't give unions a bad name'. She further went on to describe the doctors' union as not a 'modern union' because it engaged in 'old fashioned tactics' like strikes.
We are talking about the same Helen Kelly who has led a union bureaucracy that has actively collaborated with the National-led Government while it has, in response to the global capitalist crisis, launched a series of attacks against working people.
Interestingly Chris Trotter, who remains committed to the Labour Party, glosses over this duplicity by merely saying that Helen Kelly '...and the CTU were willing to wear the scorn of the militants if it meant establishing a sensible working relationship with Key and his cabinet.'
It would be more accurate to say that the CTU have been willing to sellout workers in a vain attempt to 'influence' government policy.
But Kelly, the class collaborationist, has now supposedly changed her tune.
What has changed this time round is that among the Key Governments's package of anti-worker labour 'reforms' is the proposal that union officials will not have open access to work sites. Unions will need the consent of employers although the government claims access cannot be 'unreasonably' withheld.
The capitalist crisis and the neoliberal offensive is now inexorably lapping at the feet of the union bureaucracy and it doesn't like it one bit. It feels threatened.
Perhaps Helen Kelly and co could organise themselves a cake stall or two - which was the sum total of the 'resistance' that the National Distribution Union displayed when mass redundancies were announced at the Christchurch clothing manufacturer Lane Walker Rudkin.
While the previous Labour Government would not of stepped on the toes of its allies within the union bureaucracy, the fact remains is that the National-led Government are pursuing the political and agenda started by Labour in 1984.
As the global capitalist crisis threatens to become a full scale depression , it is simply not enough for the CTU to organise a single issue campaign against the proposed labour reforms in the hope of having the more 'unpalatable' aspects of the package 'moderated'.
It is also needs, for example, to resist continuing job losses in the state sector. It also needs to fight National's intended hatchet job on the welfare system.
What is required is union resistance to the entire neoliberal offensive and the articulation of a clear progressive alternative.
Unfortunately I think this will be a step too far for Helen Kelly. She doesn't want any direct confrontation with the Key Government, fearing it will jeopardise Labour's marginal election chances. I'm sure this is the message she would of received from EPMU and Labour Party boss Andrew Little.
Labour, with the support of the unions, has been central to the attacks on jobs and living standards undertaken over the past three decades.
Both the Labour Party and the CTU have signalled that a Labour Government led by Phil Goff will merely be tinkering with the neoliberal agenda rater than overthrowing it altogether.
The truth is workers and beneficiaries would be little better off under a Labour Government of Phil Goff.
Whichever party or coalition of parliamentary parties is installed after the 2011 election, it will continue with austerity measures that are inflicting such hardship and misery on ordinary people.
Helen Kelly and CTU, despite being pushed out of their inertia, are not about to unleash war against the status quo.