The Greens have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with my union, the Service & Food Workers Union (SFWU). Good old them. It’s the first MOU signed between a union and the Green Party and it commits both organisations to working together create a sustainable society in New Zealand. The SFWU says it’s part of their strategy to develop wider political relationships and good old them too. It is part of the progression of MMP and necessary for unions who want to be able to influence future Centre Left governments.
But will it replace affiliation? I don’t think so. The SFWU is affiliated to the Labour Party, which means it has voting rights in party and candidate selections and is influential in Labour’s policy development. SFWU, unlike some other unions, stuck with affiliation to the Labour Party throughout the difficult years of the Douglas era. I know how hard the union worked at this and how divisive and difficult it was at the time.
There were those who said National couldn’t be any worse than Labour. Well they could. SFWU members found out they could and paid the price.
The Labour Party was founded by unions as its political arm, and I’ve always believed we have a responsibility to ensure our party works for working people, as well as the rest of New Zealand.
This is why affiliation is different to an MOU. The Labour Party is the only New Zealand political party that recognises this special relationship through its constitutional processes. It has worked for the SFWU, particularly in the last few years. Through their affiliation, they have been able to drive real legislative and other change in Labour that has delivered real benefits for low paid workers and their families.
Will an MOU do the same? I think starting a formal relationship with other like minded political parties is a good thing, but the relationship Labour enables in its constitutional processes through affiliation is unique. I would hate to see it diminished in any way.