Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Support the right to strike

There has been two bills that attacks workers rights drawn out of the ballot. Roger Douglas's bill on youth rates and Tau Henare's bill on secret ballot's in case of a strike. Now I could go 15 rounds with any readers who support youth rates right now. Fighting against youth rates is really important.

But that's not actually what I want to write about. I've been really disappointed to the muted response to Tau Henare's bill on the left. The best that The Standard and Frogblog can do is that there is no problem because unions already hold secret ballots. While No Right Turn appears to actively support it.

I believe such a nonchalant response to workers right to strike is at best short sighted.

Lets be clear from the start -I don't think union officials roll around the country trying to push their members into strikes.* We don't have many strikes, and I'm sure any of them that didn't face a secret ballot would have succeeded in one. So the important questions to ask are philosophical and practical.

I have a philosophical objection to it - I believe self-determination means that union members get to decide how they make their decisions. If people take a philosophical position that it is the government's place to legislate how people make their decisions in non-governmental organisations, then that should be consistent (a positio I do not take, for the reasons I've mentioned about self-determination). Why limit it just to unions?

Even more revealing of the ideology involved, why are strike ballots so special? Workers take many other important decisions in their time - the decision to accept an agreement without a pay increase, for example, is every bit as important as a strike ballot.** As are elections and other votes unions take.

As well as these philosophical objections, I think the bill could end up being really restrictive to union's ability to take action. I haven't seen a copy of the bill yet, but I'm operating under the assumption that it will deem strikes without a secret ballot illegal, in the same way that solidarity strikes are at the moment.***

Depending on the exact wording, this may take away a lot of workers flexibility when it comes to industrial. If you're not in an essential industry workers can go on strike at any time, they can go out for an hour or they can go out for a day, and they don't have to tell employers beforehand which. When I've had strike ballots (and none of the strike ballots I've had have developed into strikes) we talked about the sort of action that might be involved, then took a vote on the principle of further action. This left workers with the power to finely tune the exact time and length to depend on the work cycle of the employer.

Secondly how is the ballot going to be taken? In some circumstances the only way union members can leave their workplace for an hour to have a paid union meeting is to take strike action for that hour. It's a complete catch-22.

But most importantly it could weaken the bargaining power of workers who are on strike. At the moment how the union decies to take strike action is none of the employers business. But this would mean if there was a question about the decision to take strike action the employers could use that over the union. Particularly if a secret ballot is not defined in law workers and unions will be in a weak position. If some workers talk to each other and look at each others papers while the vote is taken is that a secret ballot? What are the restrictions on the wording on the paper? Union's may accept weaker settlements, because they don't want to fight the matter in court.

In addition there are real practical questions about how this will work in the case of health and safety strikes. The right to strike over health and safety is an incredibly important safe-guard for workers.**** If there is a requirement for a secret ballot before a health and safetry strike is taken, then workers will not be able to undertake a health and safety strike immediately, in response to an unsafe environment, unless they had the materials for a secret ballot at hand.

Which comes back to my philosophical point. It is up to workers how they want to make their decisions. This legislation will put more, not less, power in the hands of union organisers, and tie workers who want to take industrial action in reams of red tape.

That's the intention, it's not about democracy, it's about limiting unions' power.

* Which isn't supposed to be a criticism. I disagree with a lot of radicals who criticise union officials for not advocate for more radical action. I believe that it is a union official's only responsibility to carry out the directions of their members. Whether those decisions are to settle quietly or hold out for $50 an hour.

** As far as I know most unions do have rules requiring secret ballots to accept or reject an agreement. However, when these rules are not followed it is almost always to accept an agreement, rather than reject it - contrary to what Tau Henare is implying.

*** We have such limited rights to strike at the moment. We should be pushing from more, rather than refusing to defend what we've got.

**** As far as I know it is not used very much at the moment. I've never heard of a health and safety strike in New Zealand. But we shouldn't abandon the decision just because it is underused.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Please workplace tell me how I should eat

The Victoria University staff club is strange in many ways. It is tucked away in the library, undergrads aren't supposed to go there, and know very little about it. But, despite the secrecy, it is very unexciting - except the alcohol is quite cheap, and sometimes the food is nicer and less over-priced than the rest of the university.

The staff club also has a mission, and that mission is to tell the people who eat there how to eat. As you go down the corridor every side is telling you to eat Blueberries! Low fat! Omega-3 Oil! and so on. Then they usually have little plastic triangle display things on every table - the sort that some restaurants put wine or specials on, but the staff club puts advice on how not to eat too much. Including one that said: "Eat like an Eskimo" followed by lots of praise of fish. Where do you even start?

1. Eskimo? For reals? After that shall we play Cowboys and Indians with any natives we can find on campus?

2. Advice about food is so fucking ridiculous. Why on earth should we eat like we lived somewhere where almost nothing grows? The fact that human beings have been able to subsist on large parts of the planet shows how resilient we are, and what a wide range of foods (as a species) we can survive on. The fact that historically people living in some areas have eaten predominantly fish, while people living in other areas have had very limited access to fish, is a reason to shut up about the one true way of eating.

3. These are workers at the university and post-graduate students. Are we somehow expected not to be able to feed ourselves? Are we in imminent danger of death from a blueberry deficiency? Is there a special section on the health deprivation index about how badly off staff and post-graduate students at the university are?

The Fat Nutritionist has a great post about how the vast majority people on weight-watchers are based on their socio-economic-gender-ethnicity profile are already going to live FOR-EVER. The same is true for the majority of people who work at university or those with post-graduate degrees.*

I'm not suggesting that this information would be anymore productive in, say, a meatworks tea-room. But given that you can't get more urban-liberal-middle-class than the staff club at a university, and the behaviours that are described as 'healthy eating' are the behaviours of urban-liberal-middle-class women more than any other socio-economic group. What is the purpose of bombarding those most likely to be already aware, and following, the behaviours that have been designated 'healthy' with?

I would suggest that the purpose is self-satisfaction - the purpose is rewarding the virtuousness, as much as it's about compelling compliance in those who eat there (they are after all only posters - the staff club doesn't even sell that much fish). I want to explore this some more, and look at the impact that a moral model of food has on those who do not follow it. But I don't think it's a coincidence that eating-places are most likely to push these messages among those who are presumed to be already following htem.

* And this in itself is telling. As PhD Comics can tell us post-grad students subsist on instant noodles and free food that can be scavenged around campus. While this stereotype isn't entirely true, it does have a basis in reality, as post-grad students are lacking in both money and time - which makes acquiring nutritious food you want to eat tricky. And yet, post-grad students generally survive the experience, and go on to live to ages that befit their socio-economic position.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's not OK

I'm not really interested in writing much about American politics. Partly because if I'm going to do day-to-day political stuff there's so much to write about in New Zealand.* But mostly because I find it even more alienating than I ever did before. To comment on healthcare, or the escalating war on Afganistan, or even the budget freeze, with outrage implies that you expected anything different. And I didn't. Obama was always going to act like president's of the united states do and act in the interest of the rich and powerful, not of everyone else. I think the important political work that needs to be done in America at the moment, which is responding to Obama's inability to meet expectations not with despair, but with organised opposition, is not something that can be helped from a blog. So I write about dollhouse.

But then it becomes the small things that rouse me to fury and writing - in particular Michelle Obama's crusade against childhood obesity. My favourite response to this was from a feminist historian. But I'm not even capable of that sort of rational analysis, because there's only one part in all of this that can I respond to. Michelle Obama frames her entire programme by discussing her daughters' bodies, what they were eating, when she got concerned about their weight, and what she did about it (out of general principle I'm not being specific about what she said - it shouldn't have been said and I'm not going to repeat it).

It is not fucking acceptable to use your daughters' bodies to make political points. It is a betrayal of your role as their parent to use your child's body in this way. It will fuck them up. It'll fuck them up even more if it's going to be syndicated on every news feed in every part of the world, until someone in New Zealand is offering their opinion on it.

Another woman, whose mother took similar actions when she was a child wrote about it in this fantastic article, she lays the damage her mother did right out there (I got the article from a truly amazing post on fatshionista).

I wish that someone would say "You must stop using your children like this" to the Obama parents, before the kids have to say it themselves.

* National Standards ARGH! GST Rise ARGH!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Dollhouse - quick thoughts and open thread for discussion SPOILERS

So the obsessive Dollhouse fans in the audience may have noticed that I'm not posting my reviews. I'm hoping to enter this competition and my dollhouse writing energy is going towards that. I will start on full reviews after I've submitted my essay in mid-February. But in the meantime I thought I'd open up a thread so people could talk about it.

Some thoughts:

  • The show went down hill a lot in the last three episodes I think (after a run of truly fantastic episodes). Possibly it was a mistake to try and take the show that far into the story. Epitaph 2 was, in the end, a more powerful ending to the future than what we got, I think if they had tried to tell less of a story it would have been more effective.
  • I take back anything mean I've ever said about Eliza Dushku - she was great all the way through these end episodes.
  • The portrayal of Keith Harding rather marred the finale and the ideas about people's relationship with food it portrayed was really depressing. It must suck so much to believe that your appetite is all consuming and you must control it at all times, because being fat would be horrendous.
  • Sierra & Victor 4 eva.
  • The second to last episode was really incoherent - I can't even work up the will power to get offended at the worst bits (mostly stuff involving Paul Ballard), because it made no sense.
  • I thought it was neat that Mag was into girls - but it would have been even neater if Zone hadn't talked about it so much (although I liked the point that they were making that these people had fought together and knew so little about each other).
  • The Attic was good, but sub-Restless, and had even skeevier politics around race.
  • When Paul died we burst into applause - but why the hell won't they let him stay dead.
  • How did Topher become my favourite character?
I really enjoyed Dollhouse, but don't think that the last few episodes celebrated what I loved most about it.