Hobbit saga shows our vulnerabilities

There are many different aspects to the row over the Hobbit and varying views over what is the core issue. Is it the right of actors and related staff to organise and get proper wages and conditions, as Actors Equity and the CTU would claim? Or is it simply about doing whatever is necessary to keep the local film industry going even if that means working for lesser pay and conditions, so that the industry can survive?

Or is it all a dastardly plot by an Aussie union to destroy the New Zealand film industry so that their own industry can eliminate a cheaper competitor? And what about the role of the mercenary corporate film companies in Los Angeles who, it is said, care nothing about where a film is made as long g as it turns a dollar.

All of those elements are there, and there is some truth in all of those views.

My take on it is a bit different. The New Zealand film industry is like the Bangladeshi kid in the Nike factory. Paid not much and working in poor conditions and shamelessly exploited by a big company which can well afford to pay more, and morally should pay more.

But also like the Bangladeshi kid, well aware that if we, the poor and desperate of the film equivalent of the third world, actually stand up and demand a better wage and proper conditions, Nike, and their filmic equivalent, Warner Bros will simply go elsewhere to make their shoes (their movie).

Is the Bangladeshi family better off having their 12 year old by working in cramped and miserable conditions for a pittance, or is the family better off not having even that pittance coming into the household?

It's the relevant question because that is precisely the answer being asked about the film industry. Is it better to have lots of people employed at not particularly good rates of pay because at least they're employed and getting valuable experience, or is it better not to have them employed unless it's at proper rates?

The problem with the first option is that 'exploitation' continues even if the exploited are willing. The problem with the second option is that there may be no work at all and hence not much of a film industry.

Neither option is a good one. This shows that the film industry in New Zealand is not built on any sustainable advantage. Low wage rates are not a sustainable advantage because someone willing to work for even less can often be found.

But raising the rates is not a solution if it chases away the very work that is sought.

No wonder the government is keen to act, even offering to change the law to accommodate Warner Brothers. The desperate rulers of banana republics often have to lick up the spittle of global capitalists, and pretend to like it.

What the Hobbit saga demonstrates is New Zealand is now in such a powerless position that it has to go on its bended knees to beg to be allowed to offer to work at cut rates. How have we sunk to this?