Outrageous Fortune star Robyn Malcolm should rest easy in the knowledge that any time she can antagonise a bunch of Tories, anti-unionists and pro-capitalists, she must be doing something right. And, to be fair to her, she’s been doing everything right.
Already New Zealand’s champion of the small screen, Malcolm has recently become a favourite of the country’s workers (not to mention the labour movement) through her push to raise awareness about employee protection in the Kiwi film industry; in particular, the right to bargain collectively.
For her efforts, of course, she’s been effectively portrayed as the devil incarnate by those who would prefer to allow American-
based multinationals to not only set up shop in our own backyard but also enforce their own anti-union sentiment on our work-force.
Of the many ironies surrounding this issue, one is that Warner Bros, the makers of the current film in question, The Hobbit, are only too aware that they have to play fair with the US Screen Actors Guild union, but are still refusing to negotiate, or even meet to negotiate, with a Kiwi collective.
Why? Because our lack of worker protection makes us cheaper. Warner Bros are no different from Nike, Adidas and Puma, who continue to use sweat shop labour in Third World countries in order to garner the maximum possible profit from their investment. It’s good that they’re being challenged.
Another irony is that our “sometimes” Kiwis, ‘Sir’ Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens, admired by many New Zealanders for the frankly tortuous Lord of the Rings trilogy, have been happy to appease a pack of free-marketeers.
And yet another is that those deluded souls who believe that the future is really about survival of the fittest and a free market, picked for their march against Malcolm and company the one public holiday that showed them up as utter hypocrites. Labour Day.
Samuel Parnell, the 1840s Petone carpenter who fought on behalf of Kiwis for an eight hour a day, 40-hours a week default setting, must be turning in his grave. Effectively the father of Labour Day, he was once reminded by a prospective employer, George Hunter, of London’s cruel working conditions.
His response? “But we’re not in London, Mr Hunter.”
The New Zealand Herald’s media critic, John Drinnan, opted to deride Malcolm’s stance last week, suggesting amongst other things that those who sided with her view must be socialist, as if that was some sort of crime against humanity.
Forgive me, but if putting in place a safety net to ensure minimum standards for workers is to be labelled something, I’m happy to be included. As Malcolm said last week, without across-the-board industry standards, actors are completely unprotected.
Far from being the villain in the piece, the woman who plays Cheryl West in Outrageous Fortune has proven herself to be the best type of New Zealander possible: a pioneer. And a chip off Samuel Parnell’s old block. Bravo.