MUNZ and Clark: Poking Fun or Kissing Butt?

Waterfront Re-union

The last issue of Class Struggle featured an article drawing attention to the Maritime Union of New Zealand’s use of George Bush and Helen Clark on a poster promoting its cabotage campaign. Cabotage is a system that would see the restriction of shipping services between New Zealand ports to New Zealand-operated and crewed ships. The Maritime Union and New Zealand shipping bosses want the government to intervene to get rid of the foreign-owned ships and foreign workers currently operating in New Zealand waters. Under cabotage non-New Zealand workers will only be allowed to take up jobs in New Zealand coastal waters if no New Zealand seafarers are available for those jobs. In practice, this would mean that the vast majority of foreign seafarers currently employed working ships in New Zealand waters would lose their jobs to New Zealand workers.

MUNZ PR man Victor Billot reacted angrily to the article, using the indymedia news service to accuse us of being humourless old commies who couldn’t see that MUNZ was actually ‘poking fun’ at Helen Clark and George Bush. Billot defended Cabotage and condemned us for criticising the leadership ‘of one of New Zealand’s few militant workers’ organisations’.

Presumably Victor would argue that September’s issue of Port News, the magazine of the Auckland branch of MUNZ, is also an attempt to ‘poke fun’ at Helen Clark. Well, we’re sorry Vic, but once again we don’t get the joke! September’s Port News features a glossy cover shot of a beaming Helen standing with executives of MUNZ and a couple of rank and file members. Labour Ministers Judith Tizard and John ‘scrap the dole!’ Tamihere feature in a smaller cover photo. In his editorial, MUNZ’s Auckland secretary Terry Ryan explains that the photos were taken at the ‘annual Waterfront reunion held at the Point Chevalier RSA on the 15th of June’. Ryan’s words are worth quoting at length:

“The enormous workload and time constraints involved in a country’s governance are all-consuming, with every person or organisation wanting an ear or a piece of one’s time. Therefore it was genuinely appreciated, and meaningful, to have the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, take time out of her busy schedule to spend a few hours with old friends at the annual Waterfront reunion.”

We’re sure that Terry’s right about the ‘enormous workload’ involved in being Helen Clark. In September alone Helen was busy coordinating New Zealand assistance to two different US wars, organising Jobs Jolt attacks on beneficiaries at home, confiscating the foreshore and seabed from Maori, swinging open the doors of New Zealand to GE, and begging George Bush for a free trade deal in Bangkok. That’s some schedule.

Helen must be rushed off her feet staying George Bush’s ‘very, very, very good friend’, but should MUNZ be quite so sympathetic? Should Terry be giving his ‘old friend’ a pit stop by pouring her a beer at the Pt Chev RSA, or should MUNZ be working to give Helen some real work to do, by taking on a Labour Party policy programme that is more at odds with workers’ interests with every passing day? We reckon that MUNZ and other unions should be taking the fight to Labour over its attacks on beneficiaries, its failure to scrap the anti-worker provisions in the Employment Relations Act, its contributions to the US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the creeping police state that ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation and aggressive policing of dissent is creating. Getting workers off the street and off the job over issues like those is more work than pouring the PM a beer, but it’s more worthwhile too.

Dissenting Voices

But what would we know? We’re just a bunch of commie troublemakers right? A look inside September’s Port News suggests we might not be alone in our dim view of the policies of MUNZ’s cover girl. Terry Ryan’s ode to the Blairite Witch sounds particularly flat next to the verses of a reader opposed to the war Clark is helping Bush fight in Iraq. ‘Down the street flies a missile/And after the commercial breaks,/We’ll have a shot/Of the Patriot,/And the number of hits it takes’ writes Gloria Stanford, in a blackly ironic take on the US conquest of Iraq. You can bet that Helen Clark won’t be whispering Stanford’s ditty in Bush’s ear at the next APEC summit. As far as Clark is concerned, Bush’s conquest has been sanctified by a UN Security Council vote and the sixty New Zealand army engineers stationed near Basra.

Phil Mansor, Secretary of MUNZ’s local 21, provides another dissenting voice with an article about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Mansor puts his case powerfully, asking readers to imagine their neighbours ‘moving into your backyard, knocking down half your house’ and then ‘building a wall around the two rooms left so you can’t move’. After attacking the hypocrisy of Bush’s ‘Road Map’, Mansor concludes by calling a spade a spade and denouncing the Israeli occupation as terrorism.

You won’t find Helen Clark using language like that – after all, New Zealand under her leadership has actually continued to give military support to the Israeli government, by maintaining New Zealand’s role in the Multinational Force and Observers, a US-funded army which patrols the Sinai Peninsula and helps Sharon seal the southern border of the Gaza Strip. Recently Sharon sent a force deep into Gaza on a bloody search for tunnels which the Palestinians have dug to the Sinai Peninsula. It is the MFO which hunts for these tunnels on the Sinai Peninsula, and which was the ‘silent partner’ in Sharon’s raid.

Labour’s support for imperialism in Palestine and in Iraq reflects its domestic agenda. MUNZ’s pro-Cabotage poster has George Bush telling Clark how wonderful Cabotage is, and Clark promising to copy the US example and bring the system to New Zealand.

There’s an all too familiar logic to that one. George Bush’s government has put many demands on Helen Clark – the prosecution of Bruce Hubbard, repressive ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation modeled on the US’s Patriot Act, support for GE – and the commander-in-chief has tended to get what he wants. And what Bush wants is most definitely not what New Zealand workers want.

Honourable history

Victor Billot actually has half a point when he calls MUNZ ‘one of New Zealand’s few militant workers’ organisations’. Both the organisations that merged to form MUNZ have an honourable history of bypassing the politicians and taking direct action against war and imperialism.

In the 1930s the Waterside Workers Union outraged bosses and embarrassed the Labour Party by refusing to handle scrap iron being sent to Japan to make tanks to kill Chinese. In the 1940s the wharfies campaigned against conscription and the US’s influence over New Zealand foreign policy. In the 70s and the 80s the wharfies and the Seafarers Union both went on strike against US nuke ship visits, closing ports and stopping ferries.

Its history like that which makes current MUNZ policies so disappointing. The union of Jock Barnes and Toby Hill can do better than photo ops with Helen Clark and Cabotage. The words of protest from Gloria Stanford and Phil Mansor show that there is still anti-imperialist fight in MUNZ. We know the people we’d rather see on the cover of Port News!

From Class Struggle 53 November 03/January 04

No comments: