Stand together for community

Union values unite us, and union values drive us.
At every level we pursue these values, from bargaining to dispute resolution – and our campaigning work is no exception.

Illustration by Giselle Clarkson

Illustration by Giselle Clarkson

Whatever your political persuasion, as PSA members we believe in good jobs, fair pay and a working life that allows you time to rest with your whānau.

But one size doesn’t fit all – and every community has its own set of issues which play into these values. That’s why we’ve adopted our Stand Together model of campaigning. From a small town fighting to keep its library open, to a big city aiming to protect their assets from privatisation: our members are telling us what matters. And when we stand up to make our voices heard, we know our fellow PSA members are with us.

So far we’ve seen Stand Together work in the industrial context, with excellent results in the Auckland Allied Health bargaining and the Aviation Security dispute. Now we’re taking it to this year’s local government and district health board (DHB) elections. We’re using Stand Together to get people excited about the elections and help them choose candidates that support and promote their values.

We’re excited about local government

The PSA is made up of thousands of members in local government and we see first-hand how hard they work and how much they care. The challenge for this year is making sure we transmit that vision to all our members – and that we all vote accordingly.

First, there’s the question of getting people to fill in their ballot. Turnout’s been declining over the past 25 years, and in 2013 just 41% of enrolled New Zealanders bothered to return their postal vote. That’s down 8% on 2011. In some areas, the figures were even worse: just 1 in 3 Aucklanders voted in 2013.

Local Government New Zealand points at a slide in turnout in general elections too, suggesting Kiwis feel disengaged from democracy generally, and even more so when presented with complicated voting systems like STV. But on a day-to-day basis we have far more contact with local government. We’re talking about the parks we walk our dogs in, the swimming pools we visit on the weekend, the library that serves our kids. So what will it take?

Research conducted by UMR for the PSA confirmed these findings. Research director David Talbot says they start by asking focus groups what they think their rates pay for.

“They start off talking about playgrounds and libraries, and then as we go around the room, people think about more services – and they see the breadth of stuff they do get. Rubbish collection, maintaining pavements, dog control and licensing … they build up a good list. The richer the picture people come up with, the more they see how local government relates to them.”

What’s Stand Together all about?

It’s easy to point the finger at voters and say they don’t see how their rates are spent and so they don’t vote. But David Talbot suggests seeing it another way: decision makers and institutions don’t take the time to explain where our money goes, and what we get in return.

So if they aren’t doing it, we will. Our plan with Stand Together is simple. We want people to see that local government’s worth getting excited about. We want everyone to see we’re getting value for money. And we want everyone to understand the people behind our local services don’t just do a great job – they’re building great communities.

Our Local Heroes campaign is bringing local government to life.
We’re inviting our members to nominate people in their community who give their all, every day. It brings our members’ jobs to life. They’re real people who love their work and love the place they live. And the services they provide make our towns and cities terrific places to live.

The main issues this time around

Our members are tired. Year upon year of pressure to do more with less is starting to take its toll. Across our sectors, the cracks are showing. We asked you what your big issues were, and your answers shaped our campaign.

In local government, our election work will focus on keeping public services in public hands. This will include water, social housing and crucial council assets. We also want to concentrate on keeping our local democracies alive, and encouraging vibrant communities, with the rights of local iwi respected and input from migrant groups.

And then there’s the issue of fair pay and conditions for local government employees – including the Living Wage. Wellington’s still the only council that’s made a firm commitment to this, and our members have been making a point of asking the question at every candidate meeting.

DHB elections will centre on the issues flowing from the $1.7 billion that’s missing from the health budget since National came to power. Our members want better access to services and better funding for community providers. We’re also highlighting the specific case of mental health. We know services are in crisis across the country. The Ministry of Health says demand will double by 2020 – but do we have the resources to cope?

Increasing turnout

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is aiming to get more New Zealanders involved. In their words, healthy democracy depends on people voting – and unless the decline in voter turnout can be reversed, it’ll suffer.

Far too many big companies think they rule the roost in our towns ... all of us can stand together and make our votes count.

LGNZ has set a target of 50 per cent turnout and it’s launched a social media campaign #VoteNZ2016 to encourage people to get involved. Eight councils are trialling online voting this time around. There’s also a Kids Voting initiative aimed at 11 to 15 year olds, encouraging them to discuss issues, “vote” for candidates and compare their results against the official count.

Auckland: the rates debate

It’s deeply disappointing that in Auckland, the mayoral race might well end up being about who’s prepared to commit to the biggest rate cuts. The main contenders came out of the blocks trading blows about “cutting wasteful spending” and “trimming excess” – while being evasive about where the savings would come from, and how they’d manage to pay for all the expanded services they were promising.

PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay shakes his head at this. “The disturbing thing is that Auckland’s rates are pretty moderate. All the candidates seem to have some element of saying we’ve got to look at some form of job losses or cuts of some sort. It’s unfortunate this is the focus.”

He suggests asking questions about the relationship between job cuts and service cuts – and how candidates will stop Auckland’s quality of life from suffering.

Making changes and backing Jobs That Count

In the future, local government elections could become a focus for nationwide campaigns. As part of its campaign to hold Talley’s AFFCO to account, the Meat Workers’ Union is supporting candidates to stand in towns like Wairoa, Moerewa and Whanganui. They’re hoping this will put pressure on Talley’s over issues like health and safety, waste processing and respecting unions.

Union delegate Bertie Ratu lost her job with Talley’s AFFCO because she visited members at the Rangiuru plant. She’s standing for the Western Bay of Plenty District Council because she wants to make sure Talley’s is accountable to ratepayers.

It’s the brainchild of former CTU President, Helen Kelly: “Far too many big companies think they rule the roost in our towns ... all of us can stand together and make our votes count.”

Why are so many “tickets” appearing?

The Labour and Green parties have often stood candidates in local elections, but increasingly we’re seeing local tickets spring up in major cities. It’s a way to group together candidates who share similar values – and it’s seen as a way for voters to cut through the hype and choose how to cast their votes.

Local tickets such as the People’s Choice in Christchurch, City Vision in Auckland, and Community Voice in Hamilton are supporting initiatives like affordable housing, good public facilities, and the Living Wage. These tickets also clearly state what they are against such as privatisation, and a lack of public green space for whānau to enjoy.

“It’s a way to present voters with a grouping of candidates who largely agree,” PSA campaign organiser Conor Twyford says, “the political landscape is changing, and we’re seeing more and more groups coalescing around particular issues.”

What’s next for Stand Together?

We’re already casting our minds to the general election in 2017, when we’ll reach out to members again and ask them to help shape our election asks.

We’ll continue to Stand Together to support candidates who believe in good jobs, fair pay, warm affordable homes and vibrant democracy. We want ordinary working New Zealanders to have a say in how their community and their country has run. And if that takes a change of government, we might need to say that too.

By Jessica Williams