Back in July, I wrote this letter to The Press, which they printed. It seems to me that it is exactly what I want to say again today, so here goes. I hold in my heart today that Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and James Shaw can begin the weighty task of leading us out of Rogernomic’s dark heart into a compassionate light. They have promised to make a start and we will support them – and hold them to it. Kia kaha, kia ū, kia manawanui!
“Peter Townsend’s article (26 July) on proposals for a living wage is an apologia for employers and by implication, the failed neoliberal experiment forced on New Zealand workers from the 1980s onward.
Talk of growth tied to improved productivity is hollow, seen in the light of deregulation, the destruction of trade unions, individualised contracts and swingeing 1990 benefit cuts that together, shrank the buying power of ordinary New Zealanders, damaging the local manufacturers and retailers he claims to represent.
Recent research has shown up the claim that increased productivity necessarily lifts wages. According to the Oxford University political scientist R. W. Johnson, from 1948 to 1973 American productivity rose by 97 percent and real wages by 91 percent.
Yet in the neoliberal era from 1973 to 2015, productivity went up 73 percent, real wages only 11 per cent, made manifest in this country by the obscene growth of inequality, housing unaffordability and homelessness. Ideology drove down wages even as productivity rose.
We need a living wage but even more we need the state back in finance, utilities, regulatory responsibility and massive investment in the public weal, running intelligent deficits to make this country the home of a fair go for all.
Do we need another disaster like the earthquakes to remind us that government borrowing and investment is a perennial need in a just society? It is the state’s role to ensure that its citizens are cared for, that we may enjoy equal access to all public goods. If this includes a living wage, an acceptable standard of living for all, then let’s have more of that and less of laissez faire, naked in tooth and claw.”
And now, here are some of the key policy objectives reported in The Press today:
- ban overseas speculators from buying existing residential properties
- stop the sell-off of state houses
- increase the minimum wage
- set a target to reduce child poverty
- resume contributions to the NZ Super Fund
- tertiary education charges and loans
- Families Package – support replacing tax cuts to the better-off
- let’s have a strong environmental clean up too, while we’re at it
If this programme is implemented, I believe we can hold our heads up again on the world stage, unlike today, when Taika Waititi gets accused of treason for pointing out the blindingly obvious: we’re going downhill and need to back up. Let’s do it!