At the centenary gathering in Invercargill former president Keith Gutsell reflected on the union's 100 years.
After receiving an e mail yesterday asking me to say a few words, I began to think about the tremendous number of “issues” the PSA and its members have had to deal with over the last 100 years. Some of these have been minor but there have been some major historical events that I believe have shaped who we are today.
The most striking revelation for me is that history really does repeat itself and political parties do not really change their spots.
Back then we had to deal with governments that cut public services, cut wages and conditions – we had unions and the PSA was one of them that fought hard to retain or to regain them.
Women were treated as second class workers; pay equity and employment equity were given lip service. Even today we struggle to resolve this one particularly nasty thorn in the side of our members.
Legislation was created to put workers and unions in their place, threats to derecognise them and to discredit them were common place. Remember reds under the beds?? In the modern era there was the Employment Contracts.
I stand in awe of some of our leaders of the past for the great deeds they did and the difficulties they encountered, and feel like some of us modern or later day presidents have had it pretty easy.
Our moment in history I think, was defined in the term of the 4th Labour government in 1984 and the introduction of market forces and the state sector act. These changes defined us as a union. An ex president Stan Rogers introduced the act which the unions vigorously fought, lead by Colin Hicks. It was this Act that saw Stan Rogers stripped of his life membership. Other legislation followed (SOE act) where government agencies were to act as market driven entities, and CEO’s were able to act independently to achieve their ends – and today we are still suffering the results of this market deregulation. There were more demonstrations and strikes in this period than any other that I can remember.
I can also say that Stan was welcomed back into the PSA and his life membership was reinstated in 2004 by outgoing President Ian Bamber's wife, Cheryl. We were entering the period of Partnership for Quality( PFQ) and was thought that it was time to heal old wounds within the Labour government. We had a great deal of input into the ERA but did not get all that we wanted. It was a time of having great access to a variety of Labour ministers and CEO’s, a number of tri partite forums were also established.
I found myself playing the role of a dispensable president – by that I mean that I decided my role was to be the one that told the Labour government the cold hard facts as they related to a number of issues. One being common employment provisions and reasonable salary movements. It left the two national secretaries to form relationships with these ministers and chief executives – while the President _ “well he is just telling you what the views of the members are.” I must admit it did work quite well.
A little story about PFQ 2 and 3.... explain PFQ 1 and 2 - barriers to implement by CEOs and SSC. Lecture of CEOs who gives you the right to pick and choose which govt policy you will or will not implement??? Signing in parliamentetc?
So here we are in 2013 still fighting for our members’ right to have a living wage and decent terms and conditions. The employment contracts act may have gone to be replaced by the ERA – but guess what? The ERA changes being currently pushed through select committee hearings re introduce some of the old principles of the ECA! - to foster individualism rather than collectivism and brings back the master servant attitude
As long as governments adopt this neo liberalistic approach to the New Zealand economy, there will always be a place for unions, there will always be a need for workers to unite to show collective strength. The PSA has endured and I believe will continue to do so, because of union density and a sense of what is just and right. The policy of influencing the political, social and economic environment for the benefit of members gives us a strong platform for social equality.
Under this current government agenda we have a new class of poor – not only are the poor getting poorer but we now have the working poor, where a worker cannot support his or herself and family even in full time employment.
It is a sad indictment of our time that 100 years on we are still being restructured, told we are not worthy of a decent living wage, that women are less equal than men in employment and that the rich generate jobs and wealth for the workers, therefore somehow are entitled to a bigger slice of the pie – trickle down or trickle up??
I think i now have some idea of what Martin Luther King must have thought prior to his most famous speech. – and its relevance is just as important now as it was 45 years ago.
Equality – that should be the catch cry for election 2014.
I would on your behalf like to thank members and staff of the PSA past, present and future for what they have done, are doing and will do in the future to make our union a success and a voice to be listened to.