According to the latest Metro magazine (May 2008), Matt McCarten is one of “Auckland’s Toughest Bastards”. In fact he's rated 8 out of 10 for his bastardry. And as if to reinforce this, McCarten’s most recent Herald on Sunday column is a prime example of just how ruthless he can be to those that that cross him and the cause of workers in NZ. [Read more below].
The Metro's deputy editor Jan Corbett has written an article about “Auckland’s Toughest Bastards", which unsurprisingly includes McCarten and rates him as one of the toughest bastards in the survey. She reports that 'having a reputation for being a tough bastard is enormously useful' in negotiating on behalf of workers – which is what McCarten has been successfully doing within the Unite union. And McCarten's sights aren't only set on employers, but always on government and the need for significant social change. A recent example of this, is that in April 'youth rates were abolished, a legislative change that wouldn't have happened without McCarten's campaign'.
McCarten clearly tells Metro where he saids: 'I don't want to sound like a wanker... but my tribe is the low-paid. That's the cause I feel most passionately about: the working poor'. What makes him particularly bastardish is that he is relentless in that cause, and utterly militant. For example, the article says that
he’s not afraid to be arrested on picket lines. “When the police intervene in industrial disputes I can't back down”, he declares. Employers shouldn't be allowed to use the police to break strikes and the police shouldn't let themselves be used like that, he believes.
According to Metro, 'when you threaten to crush Matt McCarten, you might as well turn the gun on yourself'. CTU president Helen Kelly must therefore be ruing the day that she effectively called Unite 'a scab union', and be regretting her recent outrageous attack on striking junior doctors. She got a taste therefore of McCarten's bastardry in his latest column entitled Junior doctors deserve support from CTU - not back-stabbing.
In this column McCarten hits back at the CTU’s so-called leader for siding with the bosses in this industrial dispute – effectively describing her as a ‘scab’. He says he was ‘gobsmacked to see the head of the trade union movement publicly attack the junior doctors' two-day strike and their union leadership’. He accurately suggests that there might be some basis to the criticisms that Helen Kelly is more concerned about progressing the interests of the Labour Party at the expense of workers:
instead of attacking the union, the president of the CTU should be demanding that [the Minister of Health, David] Cunliffe stop lining up with the hospital bosses and make sure the doctors get a decent salary. Otherwise, the doctors' accusation that the CTU president seems more interested in looking after her mates in the Government than workers does seem to have a ring of truth to it.
McCarten goes further and challenges the whole basis of the ‘modern unionism’ that Helen Kelly represents:
Kelly says she hopes the strike "doesn't give unions a bad name" and the doctors' union is not a "modern union". This is because it focuses too much on getting better wages and conditions for its members and lacks professional advisers, "such as policy analysts, economists, lawyers and advocates". Its crimes include not attending talk-fests with Ministry of Health and DHB officials and other unions to "work towards a better health system". She seems to think a modern union levies its members to employ "professional advisers" so they can have meetings with the ever-expanding health bureaucracy.
This is harsh stuff to come from the leader of a CTU-affiliate union. Although everyone active in the union movement might already know that Helen Kelly is more concerned with her own personal ambition than with the interests of workers, it’s not something that is often publicly stated. And when was the last time that a union leader publicly labelled the CTU president a scab?
Some people will take McCarten’s broadside at Helen Kelly as a sign of a power play on his or maybe Laila Harre’s behalf to make a coup or take over the CTU. This isn’t the case. But it does indicate the level of militancy and frustration that exists within the union movement towards the Labour Party and what might be perceived as the party’s lackies.