Modern New Zealand unions – “fighting blindfold”?

Philip Ferguson

It’s not often that leading trade union officials in New Zealand speak openly about the exploitation of the working class, let alone about the surplus-value created by workers and expropriated by employers. Therefore, when such speeches are made, it’s useful to analyse what is being said, why, and what the political implications are for trade union activism.

Last November, Robert Reid, the national president of the National Distribution Union, one of the few left-leaning unions, made such a speech at a gathering organised by the Trade Union History Project to commemorate the life of the late Rona Bailey, a longtime New Zealand communist.

In the speech, Reid recalled being part of Marxist study groups with Rona Bailey and learning about surplus-value. Reid then rightly noted that “without an appreciation of Marxist economics or political economy, we have no understanding of how wealth is created and expropriated in the 21st century. This leaves, in many cases, the modern trade union movement fighting blindfolded.”

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