ACTs of hypocrisy

– John Edmundson

So the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union has suspended one of its workers because he is standing for parliament on the Act ticket. Shawn Tan, a former Green Party member who became a convert to Act, has been suspended (on full pay) because there is a clause in his contract which prevents his running for parliament without the permission of the EPMU national executive.

The Workers Party has a very clear view about this case and others like it. Regardless of the reactionary trajectory of Shawn Tan’s politics, we believe it is essential that any worker has the right to express his or her political views and to run as a candidate for political office without the interference of an employer. To take any other viewpoint would be to concede additional power to the capitalists over their workers, not only within the workplace but also in their employees’ lives beyond the workplace.

Act leader Rodney Hide has come galloping to the rescue, claiming that Tan, who is Chinese, is a victim of racism. According to Hide, the EPMU shares with many New Zealanders the view that Asians are “compliant” and a pushover. The union’s biggest mistake, according to Hide, is misjudging the will of Shawn Tan to fight the good fight on the issue of his right to political expression.

Of course accusations of racism on Hide’s part (not echoed by Tan, it must be said) are absurd. The EPMU was not motivated in its action against Tan by racism. It was motivated by a combination of its corporatist approach – “It’s in the contract” – and politics.

The union, one of the few still affiliated to the Labour Party, does not want one of its employees standing for a rival party. It was prepared to move against Tan despite such discrimination being against the law. EPMU boss and Labour Party wannabe Andrew Little said as much, declaring that it would be wrong to believe that Tan’s support for an anti-union party was not a factor in their decision.

Hide is, of course, being completely hypocritical in his defence of Tan in this case. Tan has stated that he has used his work computer to do Party work. “I’m a pretty confident multi-tasker,” he said. “I can be on the phone to a union member and finishing off an email at the same time.” Yet employers’ organisations have declared many times in the past that actions such as using the work internet for non-work related activities are “theft” of time that “belongs” to the employer. We’ve seen neither Hide nor hair of the Act leader when such statements have been made in the past, and we cannot expect a change of heart from him now.

Of course the hypocrisy is to be found in equal measure within the ranks of the EPMU. Tan has also stated that use of EPMU computer resources and time spent electioneering for their beloved Labour Party is standard practice. “Everyone else does it, but it hasn’t been raised as an issue until now.”

The Electoral Act requires that public servants, such as teachers, take leave if they wish to stand for parliament, but there is no such legal requirement for people such as Shawn Tan. The Workers Party believes that all workers, public servants or otherwise, should be able to run in elections without any constraint, legal or contractual, from their employers.


  1. Darryl Davidson says:

    Surely you can understand the point of the EPMU? One of its own members is running for parliament as a representative of a party that would drastically reduce the power of unions and threaten the rights of workers. You could argue that the EPMU is protecting the rights of workers by suspending this member, and thus should be praised!

  2. John Edmundson says:

    Darryl Davidson Says:
    “Surely you can understand the point of the EPMU? One of its own members is running for parliament as a representative of a party that would drastically reduce the power of unions and threaten the rights of workers. You could argue that the EPMU is protecting the rights of workers by suspending this member, and thus should be praised!”

    If the EPMU was allowed to suspend people for having political views that are not in accord with their own, how could that right be denied to anyone else? Lots of other EPMU staff run as candidates for the Labour Party, a party that has done far more damage to workers than a nutcase party like ACT is ever likely to do.

  3. Exactly John. By Darryl’s logic a business could sack a person who stands for a left-wing party that wants to raise taxes etc.

  4. Oh John Edmundson you munter. It appears every single point you’ve made has been disproven by the EPMU. You got suckered by an ACT Party media campaign buddy! How’s it feel to do the boss class’s bidding?

    Maybe this is the point where you reflect on the meaning of solidarity and of not piling into your comrades in the unions before you have the full facts.

  5. Ollie, we have always been clear that we defend Shawn Tan’s right to stand DESPITE his reactionary politics, which we are fully conscious of. If you read the article above it is obvious that we do not make any moral judgements on the worthiness or otherwise of this individual, rather our position is based on the concrete needs of the working class for maximum democracy in both the political and industrial sphere.

    Bear in mind that the prohibition on EPMU officials standing for election without the leadership stamp of approval was originally introduced in the 1950s to prevent a regional secretary from standing as a candidate for the Communist Party. The EPMU leadership has for a long time been violently hostile to any forces that stand for the self-activity of the working class free of bureacratic controls and “social partnership” with the bosses – witness their recent shafting of the Posties Union.

    At the end of the day the “comrades” of the EPMU leadership have much more in common with Mr Tan in terms of their practical politics than they do with the workers they represent. However in a truly democratic organisation where the leadership is accountable to the rank and file via the automatic right of recall and shopfloor assemblies reactionaries of all stripes – from Andrew Little to Shawn Tan – would not be able to win support for their ideas.

    It is precisely because the EPMU is NOT run along the lines of radical participatory democracy that we have to put up with the antics of such cretins.

    Finally, just a word of caution on the use of personal insults in comments on this site – if you take the trouble to read our comments policy you will see that we have strict guidelines on this.

  6. John Edmundson says:

    Nothing in the EPMU press releases Ollie links to is new to me. I have read the email correspondence from Tan’s computer a releases by the EPMU. The point remains that the EPMU reserves the right, as an employer, to deny an employee the democratic right to participate in the electoral process. Does Ollie consider that to be reasonable? In that case, does Roger Kerr or Dave Henderson have the right to prevent an employee running for office too? Nobody in the WP has any illusions about the natuer of Shawn Tan’s politics. In fact, the only one with any ilusions about his politics appears to be Shawn Tan himself, who seems to believe that being worker friendly and an ACT candidate are not incompatible. Sadly, more people, particularly in the EPMU, have that illusion with regard to the Labour Party, which has spent more than half of the last 24 years overseeing a vicious regime of neo-liberalism in tandem with the National Party.

    What points did I make?
    1 The EPMU reserves the right to deny its employees access to full democratic participation. That is still true and I stand by that claim. Most bosses don’t put that in their contracts but might start to if the EPMU gets away with it. As Tim noted, it was never a measure intended to keep out reactionary candidates, but workers’ candidates.

    2 Hide was completely wrong to try to play the race card. I stand by that.

    3 The EPMU didn’t want an ACT candidate within the EPMU. I stand by that too. While Andrew Little now denies it, he was stupid enough to say precisely that on National Radio. It was NOT played out of context, it was crystal clear. That he now wants to distance himself from that statement is hardly surprising – I couldn’t believe his stupidity in admitting it when I heard him – but he did say it.

    4 Little wants a Labour Party career – No secret there, although his chances might have taken a dive after his handling of this issue. That depends on how fussy the Labour Party is.

    5 Hide’s a hypocrite. No surprises there.

    6 Labour candidates do campaigning work on EPMU time/computers. That hasn’t been challenged. Sure, the EPMU says they should take leave, but that doesn’t stop them using their EPMU email etc to do campaigning work, including during work time. Of course the union does it itself, heaping loads of its members’ fees upon the Labour party every election.

    7 No employer should have the right to deny an employee access to candidacy. I stand by that. Does Ollie think employers should have that right?

    The EPMU has not disproven ANY of these points. Of course ACT have run a slick media campaign. But the ones who got suckered were the EPMU. They could have let him stand, thus not expanding bosses’ power over staff in general. If Tan’s work suffered, they could have dealt with that. Act is polling about 1%. Tan would probably have never made it into parliament. If he did, so what? Instead, “the boss class’s bidding” is being done here by a union testing and extending employers rights over employees’ political activity, both within and outside the workplace. I repeat; No employee should have the right to refuse an employee’s right to participate fully in the democratic process.

  7. John Edmundson says:

    Of course, the last line should have read “No employer should…”

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