Rodney Hide on Union muscle

Rodney Hide discusses the union muscle controlling the Labour leader selection.

The Labour Party is now busy deciding our other option for prime minister. It’s a big deal. The disturbing thing is that our option is being decided not in the backroom of the Labour Party but in the backroom of half-a-dozen unions.

The few dozen delegates belonging to the likes of the EPMU and the Meat Workers together hold 20% of the leadership vote. Their vote counts. Big time.

These are the unions that have affiliated with the Labour Party. They exercise enormous power within Labour and are now getting to choose our other option for prime minister.

The president of the NZ Council of Trade Unions, Helen Kelly, is clear on how the unions will work their vote. “The union executive – or members – will make the decision about who to support and those [delegate] votes will be cast on behalf of the union.”

As Mrs Kelly has made plain, the delegates will be voting as their executives dictate. And, again as Ms Kelly has explained, the union executives are meeting and discussing their vote. The unions will block-vote and that vote is very powerful. 

Despite the rules I might add.

The Service and Food Workers is the only affiliated union that gives members a vote. But members only get to vote if they turn up to the leadership hustings or live further than a given distance from the meetings and take the trouble to apply to vote. All the other unions are voting through their delegates.

The contenders will be anxious to win that 20% union vote and will promise whatever they must to get that vote. Party members can’t organise a block vote. Nor can the caucus. But for the unions it’s easy. They have a blank cheque to write policy for a future Labour-led government.

It’s a disgusting and unwanted development in New Zealand politics. We wouldn’t want Federated Farmers or Business New Zealand having the determining vote for the leader of the National Party. Or Forest & Bird deciding the Green leadership.

Rodney is dead correct on that. Imagine the uproar if Federated Farmers could directly vote on the leader of the National party along with the members of the NZ Initiative, and the Employers and Manufacturers Association. Labour would be issuing press releases that National was in the pocket of big business…oh wait they already do that…and yet the unions are voting in the selection of Labour’s next leader.

Our options for prime minister are narrow enough now without six unions tilting the field their way. We have in the past been anxious about big money affecting politics. But now we have unions with a direct say over who gets to lead the Labour Party. The would-be leaders must go cap in hand to the unions and win their support. That’s a power that no financial donor has ever been able to exercise.

Still, we shouldn’t get too hot and bothered. It’s MMP. It won’t be us deciding the next prime minister: it will be Winston, after we have all voted.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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