Labour Party volunteer workers rebel over living conditions
By Richard Harman (author)
A Labour Party scheme to recruit 85 overseas students to campaign for the party during this year’s election has hit trouble.
The students rebelled over their accommodation and their disappointment with what was supposed to be a high powered learning programme but which appears to be not much more than political campaign drudge work.
Now party heavyweights have had to step in to rescue the programme and deal with the complaints from the students.
The scheme, which required the students to work for free, was to involve lectures from Labour party heavyweights such as Helen Clark and Andrew Little.
It is part of Matt McCarten’s “Campaign for Change” which he describes as a non-partisan campaign to get people engaged and involved.
But how non-partisan is debatable.
McCarten is Andrew Little’s former Chief of Staff and resigned two weeks ago from running Labour’s campaign office in Auckland.
POLITIK has seen emails which show that the students have now held two meetings with party officials to complain about their accommodation on an Auckland marae and the work they were being asked to do.
Last night Labour’s General Secretary Andrew Kirton confirmed that there had been issues with the scheme which had arisen over the past week.
He said the scheme had been originated by Andrew Little’s former Chief of Staff, Matt McCarten, who now runs Labour’s campaign office in Auckland.
“There were some issues with capacity, “he said.
“He couldn’t really supervise them on a daily basis.”
The heart of the row appears to be the living conditions under which the interns have been accommodated at Awataha Marae in Northcote.
POLITIK has been sent photographs showing:
- Cramped dormitory alcoves
- A broken and unusable shower
- Bathroom cupboard doors hanging off their hinges
- Unfinished construction work with material piled beside mattresses
The students met Labour party officials on Saturday to protest about their accommodation and were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.
The email received by POLITIK said: “Most were shocked at where they have been living and what they have been doing, but are afraid to make too big a fuss in case it is cancelled, and they get stuck in NZ for weeks until their return flights.
Some students left after one day; others are resigned to see it through (they have no other option- can't afford another ticket to go back).”
The interns were invited by Labour to help with its campaign.
The emails continued: “They were told that they are broken down into teams- they will be either phone soliciting ( they've bought 30-ish Alcatel phones, and they sit in a room and call, from this marae, very disorganised, many of these people have been called already ) , door knocking in regions in Auckland, or approaching universities and "unions" to recruit votes ad more volunteers. They have one day of 'training' tomorrow. There is nothing else planned for these guys as far as I am aware.”
Kirton says that Labour’s head office had been notified of these problems and had now stepped in.
The interns would leave Auckland and be distributed across the country. They would be billeted with Labour supporters.
“I’ve met with a lot of these volunteers, they are great young guys,” said Kirton.
“So we are going to make sure that we get out and about a bit more and sort it out.”
The website attracting the interns said the fellowship was modelled on similar programmes run by the Democratic Party in the USA and the British Labour Party.
"Fellows will be instructed in the fundamentals of a successful campaign - from knocking on doors to recruiting volunteers to use the party's campaign software - but will progress quickly and ultimately may build and train their own teams and lead campaign activity across Auckland.
The campaign Fellows serve an important leadership role and will report directly to the field organisers.
“They will be tasked primarily with projects surrounding the recruitment and retention of volunteers and direct voter contact activity. “
The programme is billed as an education opportunity for the interns which will give “the fellows a glance into what a career in politics would be like, as well as offering the fellows special access to senior MPs and important decision makers in the party.”
Short lectures are promised from some top Labour Party names:
- Andrew Little
- Jacinda Ardern
- Helen Clark
- “Current ambassadors to NZ."
- “Senior party stakeholders and staff, including the President and Chief of Staff “
- Teleconferences with senior staff from US Democratic Party and UK Labour Party
However, Kirton said there were now problems organising these talks because the volunteers were no longer in one place.
The party might use webinars for the talks, he said.
And the website explains that “although we are unable to compensate our fellows financially, the campaign fellowship will stand out on your CV and both organisers are happy to serve as a reference upon successful completion of the fellowship.”