Wellington Scoop
Network

Unions want councillors to stand against privatisation of public assets

Media release from Unions Wellington
Unions Wellington wishes to express its support for councilors voting to protect public assets such as the library. We are not concerned with ‘dysfunction’ in council driven by political differences, but we are very concerned by last minute maneuvering by council staff and the Mayor against the previously expressed wishes of the full council against asset sales.

Background

Unions Wellington is the Wellington regional body for the Council of Trade Unions. The trade union movement is the largest set of civil society organisations in Aotearoa, representing tens of thousands of workers in the Wellington region. As the body representing the working people of Wellington, we take a proactive interest in all matters that affect those working people.

In the last election, Unions Wellington surveyed all candidates on their attitudes to a number of issues including housing, living wages, public services and sale of public assets. To achieve Union endorsement, candidates had to display a commitment to progessive values, and this included a commitment against supporting the sale of public assets.

Candidates who were endorsed were then circulated to union members and supporters through a range of mediums, including but not limited to; social and traditional media, through union structures, leaflet drops, door knocking, text messaging and our email lists. While this campaign was modest, it was meaningful and the results showed that across the region, Unions Wellingotn endorsed candidates were 16% more likely to be elected than those who failed to achieve our endorsement. On WCC, 8 councillors (Green, Labour and Independent) were elected with Union endorsement.

The Library/Asset Sales

It is a concern to Unions Wellington to see union-endorsed councillors voting to allow council staff to explore options for privatising space in the Central Library (amongst other austerity measures) at the recent council meeting.

Unions Wellington has given those councilors an opportunity to provide their reasoning for their votes. While we appreciate their prompt response, we cannot agree with their reasoning for their votes.

We do not accept that voting to explore these options is compatible with a commitment against privatisation. Counsellors are elected to provide direction to council officers. It is on councilors to set the parameters for acceptable options going forward. Allowing council officers to explore these options sets in motion forces that can prove difficult to pull back from later. If you do not support asset sales, take them off the table. Period.

While we understand and are sympathetic to the financial difficulties faced by council, we do not accept that these are so insurmountable to necessitate asset sales. Privatisation of public space can only be seen as an option if all other avenues are totally exhausted. We do not believe that council has exhausted all options (such as debt ceilings, limiting executive level pay etc).

Unions Wellington implores all endorsed councilors to return to their prior commitments to clearly stand against the privatisation of public assets.

‘Dysfunction’

Unions Wellington would also like to comment on the alleged dysfunction of the current council. Some degree of conflict and frustration is inevitable in representative political institutions such as local government. In the case of WCC this is especially the case given the divergent political positions of the council majority and the mayor.

This is to be expected.

The people of Wellington do not elect candidates so they can enjoy each others company at the council table. The people of Wellington elect candidates to represent them in decisions that will affect the cities future. It is Unions Wellington’s expectation that candidates we support continue to advocate for the people who put them there.

Given the experience and competence of those at the council table, and the Mayor (including candidates who did not receive our endorsement), Unions Wellington does not see any issue facing council as insurmountable. Numerous issues appear to have been able to progress- including the central library. This progress will not be possible however, if the mayor and council staff wish to continue to relitigate issues previously decided by council (like library privatisation), or to try to force progressive councillors to abandon their commitments.

Independent Review

Given the difficult financial pressures facing council, Unions Wellington is not convinced that a public funded review of the council is the best use of public money. If a review is necessary, we would note that in 20 months time there will be an opportunity for a comprehensive review of the council. The 2022 local elections gives every Wellingtonian an opportunity to pass their judgement on the record of the current council, and if they are unsatisfied with the direction, gives them an opportunity to seek new representation.

It is our view that councilors and the mayor should focus on putting together a body of work that can maintain the confidence of working people in Wellington.

Candidates who wish to win Union endorsement should keep in mind that a track record of being a reliable progressive representative is important. Failure to be a consistent opponent of privatisation (in libraries, or regarding water metering), will make it hard to be seen as a candidate worthy of union support.

-Ben Peterson, Unions Wellington Co-Convenor
-Noah Brennan, Unions Wellington Co-Convenor

4 comments:

  1. Vicki Greco, 25. February 2021, 19:52

    Isn’t Councillor Fitzsimons part of these unions? Which hardly makes them independent.

     
  2. Ray Chung, 25. February 2021, 20:21

    Hi Ben and Noah, I’m wondering if you noted which of your endorsed councillors voted to sell council land at Shelly Bay and whether you asked them why? You also state that you’re not at all concerned about the council being dysfunctional. Don’t you consider that a dysfunctional council would adversely affect your members and while you say they have a responsibility to these members, I’d hardly think they’d be happy with an inefficient council continually building up debt and increasing rates?

     
  3. bsmith, 26. February 2021, 9:56

    I’m wondering what right ben and noah have to blatantly suggest a candidate should toe the union line for some sort of union support.

     
  4. Claire, 26. February 2021, 16:12

    Labour councillors have to be endorsed by the union do they not. Then they must toe the party line. Better by far to have Independent Candidates.