EPMU leaders’ strange behaviour

– Don Franks

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Labour’s Goods and Services tax, Listener columnist David W Young wrote:

” The reason GST is much-loved by right-of-centre policy wonks in New Zealand and marvelled at by their colleagues overseas, is that it’s “pure”. (Finally, a tax that right-wingers like!) GST wasn’t adulterated to make it palatable to the masses. Calls to exempt food, education and health were rejected by Douglas and Brash’s committee. The few exceptions are rents on residential rental properties, donations and financial services.”

Young noted:

“The biggest concern about GST was that it would disproportionately harm the poor. That argument, made strenuously by unions and mainstream politicians in the 1980s, has shifted over time to the fringes of debate. It’s based on the fact that GST is effectively a regressive tax, because poorer people spend a greater proportion of their income than the rich, who put more into savings.”

(“Happy Returns”, Listener Dec 1 2006)

Today, argument about GST is continuing inside the trade union movement, but with some union leaders opposed to the wishes of their rank and file.

A remit put up at the Manukau 2 forum, that went to the Engineering Priinting and Manufactiring union ( EPMU) conference read:

“As part of the 2008 Election Campaign the removal of GST from essential items is a condition of EPMU support for any political party”

Forum delegates voted for:47, against:1, abstentions:0

The Spark understands that EPMU constitution committee which makes the recommendations to the national conference wrote a whole page against this remit. They said at the end of it that “This remit wittingly or unwittingly contains underlying sentiments of right wing ideology (reduce the tax base; limit the ability of the state to be effective). Recommend reject the remit.” Both Don Pryde (National President) and Andrew Little (National Secretary) made related comments in their conference opening address, Andrew Little and Paul Tolich (Senior National Industrial Officer) spoke against it in the remit session too.
The EPMU leaders say they don’t want to “limit the ability of the state to be effective”.

“Effective” for who?

GST is widely and accurately recognised as a tax on the poor. Unless the capitalist state is to distribute that tax straight back to the poor, which it obviously will not, then the distribution will be to those who are not poor, the rich. Wealth redistribution to the rich was the whole point of imposing GST in the first place, as a part of Labour’s package to help restore profitability to a wobbling capitalist economy.
What is the reason for the EPMU leaders strange behaviour?

Why on earth are they taking the side of the rich in the GST debate?
EPMU leaders are not in the habit of criticising anti worker policy when it comes from Labour. The union’s officials have longstanding close ties with the Labour party leaders. It’s no secret that current EPMU secretary Andrew Little has personal political ambitions.

However, there’s an even more basic reason for EPMU leaders defense of GST. Like many other top union leaders today, EPMU officials see no alternative to the capitalist system. They are concerned with helping the capitalist system work. That attitude can only lead to compromising workers interests, because capitalism can only prosper at worker’s expense.

The Worker’s Party stands on the side of the unionists who promoted and supported the remit against GST. Those unionists were dead right, and one day, their position will, deservedly, prevail.

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