Although you will not have known it by watching the six o'clock news on either TV1 and TV3, there have been further huge demonstrations in France.

This week the French union movement put more pressure on the Sarkozy Government in its campaign against his attempt to increase the retirement age.

France saw its biggest demonstrations yet with nearly four million people out on the streets and large sections of the French economy shut down.

All the polls show that the demonstrations are supported by two thirds of the French population.

Of course these protests are not just about the retirement age and the availability of pensions - they are part of a wider and escalating campaign against the French Government's austerity policies.

The French union movement has, by its actions, told the unpopular Sarkozy that the French working class will not be made to pay the price for an economic crisis it was not responsible for.

12,000 miles away in New Zealand our union 'leaders' can barely muster a faint 'boo' for John Key and the National-led Government. Or, in the case of PSA President Brenda Pilot, a faint 'I'm very concerned.'

The New Zealand economy is well and truly stagnant and unemployment continues to rise into the stratosphere. There are now over 260,000 without jobs. We are, as business commentator Bernard Hickey observed last month, living in a 'zombie nation…frozen in the headlights of the global financial crisis'.

In the face of this economic crisis, the Key Government has implemented a sweeping austerity agenda, including the inevitable spending cuts and attacks on workers and beneficiaries. At the same time we have seen a massive transfer in wealth to the already well-off, via the increase in GST and the tax cuts.

And in the face of this mounting National Government attack on the living standards of ordinary people, we have barely heard a squeak from the CTU President Helen Kelly. Or anyone else in the CTU cabal for that matter.

In recent times all that has been organised is a few small and lacklustre demonstrations against the extension of the 90 day 'fire at will' legislation. And these even these demonstrations were held at times that would not 'inconvenience' bosses.

But now Ms Kelly and her well-paid colleagues are back in their Wellington offices again where the CTU President plots which next downtown restaurant she will visit for dinner.

For those who hoped that the 90 day campaign would be the catalyst for a wider industrial campaign against the Government's austerity policies they were underestimating just how reactionary the CTU leadership is.

Over the last two decades it has actively cooperated with both National and Labour government's as they have pursued a neoliberal economic agenda.

Unlike in France where there has a high level of union loyalty and activism, the 'modern unionism' of Ken Douglas, Helen Kelly, Andrew Little and others of their ilk, has led to a declining and passive union membership.

Given that they have found themselves being frequently shafted by their union leaders, its no surprise that a great many workers have simply washed their hands of a union movement that has not only failed to defend their interests but delivered them up on a plate to grateful bosses.

In 1989 44 percent of workers were members of unions but it had declined to 22 percent when Helen Clark and Labour came to power in 1999.

Union membership has remained stagnant since then - at the end of last year only 21 percent of the workforce were members of unions. In the private sector a staggeringly low 12 percent of workers are union members.

In a capitalist society like New Zealand its fundamentally important to maintain a strong and militant union movement because without it it is a Herculean task to build not only a significant socialist movement but a progressive movement and culture in general.

The politically sterility of the trade union movement whose leadership have neither the will or desire to fight has done New Zealand workers no favours at all.

In France there is a strong and militant trade union movement and, not coincidentally, a strong left wing culture that embraces all forces for progressive change.

The very individuals that have been the most responsible for kneecapping the union movement and the left wing in this country will be at the Labour Party conference this weekend.

Some of them will also no doubt be delivering speeches to the conference.

Without a trace of embarrassment Helen Kelly will no doubt talk about defending the interests of New Zealand workers.She will also no doubt talk about creating a better New Zealand and working for progressive change.

The sad thing is that she will get a big hand of applause from the conference floor and there will be a great deal of 'comradely bonhomie'.

It would just be great if someone attacked Kelly for being a lousy hypocrite but we're talking a Labour Party conference so that isn't going to happen.

There are no socialists in the Labour Party.

This is, after all, the party whose leader thinks there's no alternative to capitalism and whose idea of real and far-reaching progressive change is knocking the GST off fresh fruit and vegetables.


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