After decades of management speak from a Council of Trade Unions committed to maintaining its cosy arrangement with both Labour and National Government's it is certainly a breath of fresh air to hear CTU President Helen Kelly evoking some good old fashioned trade unionism.

Apparently strike action is not so 'old hat' as Kelly has so often insisted.

The CTU's hand was, of course, forced.

If John Key hadn't announced a package of law reforms designed to weaken the working class and challenge the authority of unions, its likely it would be business as usual with the CTU.

Indeed Kelly last week lauded the Employments Contract Act , claiming it has 'fostered good faith relationships between employers and unions,'

She has even said the CTU has delivered on its side of the bargain by ensuring that incidences of industrial action have been at an all-time low.

This is certainly true. Helen Kelly and the CTU have never deviated from their pro-business stance and have sold out workers time and time again.

In 2009, there were just 18 recorded strikes, involving 2,010 workers and 1,382 person-days of work lost—a historic low. That this occurred while the National Government was launching its austerity policies, is nothing for Kelly to be proud of. But proud of it she is.

Job cuts, high unemployment, and virtually zero wage growth has been the lot of working people and the CTU has actively suppressed resistance while it has vainly tried to 'influence' government policy.

But the economic recession refuses to go away and John Key has shown no hesitation to expand the Government's attacks on the working class.

The CTU's policy of collaboration has been a failure and now it has no choice but to respond.

What came out of the CTU National Council meeting last Thursday was the launch of a campaign which has been lamely called 'Fairness at Work', designed to combat the proposed new labour 'reforms'.

Helen Kelly has commented that the campaign will be "very, very public" and will include industrial action, demonstrations, public meetings and community activities.'

According to Unite's Matt McCarten, unions will adopt differing tactics depending 'on their culture and membership base'.

The danger though is that the CTU will seek to orchestrate a meek and mild campaign merely designed to have the bill 'moderated.'

Already the Employers Federation are saying that the bill can be looked at when its reached the select committee stage.

Nor can we accept any attempts to drive opposition to the labour reforms to support for the Labour Party, still committed as it is to neoliberalism .

Phil Goff might oppose the National Government's labour legislation but the Clark Government, of which Goff was a senior minister, was hardly a friend of working people.

When in power, Labour kept many of the features of National’s Employment Contracts Act and it's not unlikely it would do the same with National Government's proposed new labour laws.

Finally it would be a mistake to allow the CTU to conduct a 'one issue' campaign because these reforms are all part of an assault by capital to create a low wage economy with a weak and complaint working class.

Sue Bradford touched on this when she wrote that we need to make the link between the proposed labour reforms and the Government's agenda to make sweeping changes to the welfare system which are designed to cut costs and services by severely restricting people's access to benefits - all at a time when people are already struggling to survive.

The union movement cannot sit idly by and allow the welfare state to be dismantled and it must fight the increasing belligerent neoliberal agenda of the Key Government.

This, of course, is easier said and done. For instance, no one can feel inspired that the CTU's 'answers' to the unemployment crisis do not challenge the assumptions of neoliberalism at all. The best we get from the CTU is a call for temporary job schemes.

The CTU woke from its slumbers last week but the pressure needs to be continually applied to ensure that it is not tempted to retreat again to the way of least resistance.

It will also be a step forward for the left if we see the emergence of struggles that go beyond the control of the union bureaucracy.


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