Saturday, December 03, 2011

Undercutting the Unions

I'm glad to see Chris Trotter, David Farrar and John Armstrong agree that unions wield too much sway in the Labour Party. About bloody time. The union poison has been in Labour's veins so long, it's good that someone's finally drawing attention to the infection. From the Book of Trev, the Jim Anderton Chapter:
Anderton went off in high dudgeon and hid himself, while I went to the Pier Hotel with the union delegates and had a thoroughly good evening sharing their booze and arguing with them about the merits of Union support of the Labour Party. I pointed out to them that in fact they were a millstone around our necks and that the average member of the public thought that a trade unionist was just about as bad as a traffic cop or a lawyer.

In spite of unions representing at best a tenth of the workforce these days, the power vacuum left in the Labour party structure by the talented activists and thinkers of the centre-right Backbone Club back in the 90's has led to union dominance ever since.

In ten years, unions as we know them will not exist. Technology and globalisation are wiping out their members' jobs. The EPMU couldn't stop the Telstraclear Kapiti call centre closing down, its functions off-shored to the Philippines. They can't stop the automation of front office functions such as self-checkout supermarkets or automated airline kiosks. And if those staunch union wharfies haven't watched season two of The Wire yet, I suggest they do so pronto.

There are larger changes ahead. The availability of self-tuition has never been more widespread. From Khan Academy to online university papers, teachers' unions are facing competing models of learning. They are no longer the sole gatekeepers of the public good of free education. A monolithic union cannot control the fragmented future of education.

If Labour clings to the unions for their survival, they are truly on a path to extinction. Even tuataras have to shed their skin every now and then. Time to slough off the big-talking under-achievers and wise up.