Why is Mike Treen, national secretary of the Unite Union, supporting the austerity policies of the Labour-led government?
MIKE TREEN IS THE National Secretary of Unite, a union that principally represents low paid workers. It is, as far as unions go, one of New Zealand's more politically progressive unions. Mike Treen, I think, would describe himself as a socialist.
Unfortunately he also supports the Labour Party.
Treen though isn't a dumb cheerleader for Labour and there is no danger of him indulging in the kind of childish adulation we have seen of Jacinda Ardern in recent months. He is too smart for this kind of drivel. He does criticise Labour. But even though he is well aware that the social democratic project has failed, every three years he puts his criticisms and concerns away in a big cardboard box and stores it in the cupboard under the stairs - where it stays until the general election is over.
Treen has justified supporting Labour on the grounds that a Labour-led government is preferable to a National-led one. It is, he says, the lesser of two evils. Treen though thinks that some Labour governments are more 'lesser evil' than others. In 2013 he wrote:
"It is always worth remembering that not all Labour governments are a lesser evil. It would be hard to argue that was true for the 1984-90 Labour government."
But during the nine years of National -led governments he consistently urged folk to vote Labour because it was ,he claimed, preferable to National. But for three elections in a row folk ignored Mike's advice and put National back into office. More significantly, nearly a million people consistently didn't bother to vote, disenchanted and disillusioned with all of the establishment parties.
But, thanks to Winston Peters and New Zealand First, Labour has been installed in the Beehive. Finally, Mike Treen has his 'lesser evil' government.
But it has been a less than stellar start for 'lesser evilism'. While Labour campaigned on a election commitment to really tackle poverty it has effectively announced that the austerity regime of the past decade will continue. The blog No Right Turn has observed:
"... you can always rely on chickenshit Labour to ignore a golden opportunity to do the right thing. They're so scared of National criticising them - something that will happen regardless of what they do - that they are pre-emptively taking major policies off the table, and effectively pledging to continue right-wing austerity forever. Labour needs to decide what it stands for: social services, or austerity. And if its the latter, then they might as well not be in government. All they'll really be standing for is a different bunch of arseholes getting the big salaries, while ordinary kiwis keep on getting fucked over."
Yes, it doesn't sound like much of a deal for workers. It especially doesn't sound like much of a deal for the low paid workers that Mike Treen's union represents. I wonder if any of them, who voted Labour because Mike advised them to, are now looking at him sideways?
Unlike No Right Turn, Treen hasn't taken Labour to task - even though it richly deserves it. Amazingly, he is offering Jacinda Arden advice on how she can have her cake and eat it too.
Mike Treen, the union official and socialist, says that Labour can carry on with its austerity regime but, at the same time, it can fund much needed improvements to the health sector through an investment account that he says is controlled by the Accident Compensation Commission.
Putting aside the very big issue that Treen appears happy to consign working people and beneficiaries to further austerity, it is not the job of people who profess to any kind of progressive beliefs to offer a helping hand to a failing liberalism. It is especially not the job of socialists to offer a plan to keep austerity keep on keeping on - which is what Treen is effectively doing.
Mike Treen forgets that the socialist and left wing movement has aspirations of its own. We have a world to win and that means pushing beyond the suffocating confines of establishment politics. Treen though is more interested in propping up establishment politics. In the name of the 'lesser evil' he is prepared to commit a bigger evil - betraying the interests of ordinary Kiwis.