Communist Worker

Archive of Communist Workers Group of Aoteaora/New Zealand up to 2006

Archive for the ‘EPMU’ Category

Union Busting : Real leadership for Postal Workers

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NZ Posties in the Postal Workers Federation are engaged in industrial action to force NZ Post to negotiate a new collective with better pay and conditions. NZ Post is resisting a new Collective Agreement claiming the old one has expired and that PWF posties have to negotiate individual agreements or join a new union! 90% of PWF Posties have voted to take industrial action. This arrogant union busting attitude of the bosses is made easier by the fact that the EPMU also covers posties. The EPMU does not have a good record in negotiating alongside other unions. We look at the pitfalls of having the workforce split into two unions and ways of dealing with this.

Negotiate together

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) head, Ross Wilson has shepherded the Postal Workers Federation and EPMU into joint negotiations with NZ Post. What are the dangers for union members in this situation?

Settlement of a deal for both unions would be voted on separately, but what happens if one union votes to accept a deal and the other union votes to reject it?

Recent history gives us an example: The EPMU recently got into this situation with the Aviation & Marine Engineers Association, over the deal they proposed with Air NZ. In October 2005, Air New Zealand announced plans to cut 600 jobs from heavy maintenance engineering. The EPMU effectively set up a deal to ‘save 300 jobs’ but to sell out conditions (rostered shifts) of Christchurch based engineers. In effect, the EPMU wanted a smaller union to take a loss in order to save jobs. The Christchurch Engineers rejected the deal (and saved their conditions) but were subject to abuse and ridicule by the EMPU for rejecting the conditions, and making the whole deal fall over. That was considerable pressure on the smaller union to agree to the deal.

That’s why the smaller union must be organised on the shop floor and ready to support its claims with action. Negotiations are only as successful as the organization of workers is strong.

Organise action separately

The EPMU is likely to lead workers into negotiations and offer little other than a legal path. The EPMU delegates’ forums are few and far between. There is little opportunity for delegates to raise issues from the shop floor. The EMPU organisers are expected by their management to run the meetings according to their agenda, so these meetings become top-down rather than democratic.

The Postal Workers Federation can be a real leadership representing the rank and file members, and that would show up the bureaucratic methods of the EPMU officials. PWF delegates can raise issues from the shop floor in more democratic union meetings. The communication back to members about what is being done is important to demonstrate effective union leadership. However organising in the workplace is most important.

Actions such as not signing off “round profiles” shows real leadership over the conditions that matter on the ground. Members and delegates need to be discussing how to implement work-to-rule.

What we can do to prepare to take direct action to support claims?

Communication among union members is essential in order to take united action. Swapping phone numbers and using email and internet are ways to stay in touch. Setting up a telephone tree is a way to call meetings, and letting members know essential information quickly. How else can members be prepared to take action if a union member is victimized by and employer? (eg. suspended or dismissed). Only the solidarity of union members in support of delegates can protect other workers against victimization.

Taking the lead on the shop-floor would force the EPMU members to question their officials and to also put pressure on for real action to support their claims. The potential for united action remains.

Having two unions in the workplace means that ordinary workers are questioning the union leaderships. An effective union leadership will carry the interests of members into all of it’s actions. We would hope that the best leadership would gain the most members and recruit the membership of the other union, which could then fade into deserved irrelevance. At this time the Postal Workers Federation is showing the best leadership by far.

Rank and File Control of the Union!
Put union dues into fighting funds (i.e. strike wages)
For democratic fighting unions!

A Class Struggle Leaflet

From Class Struggle 67 June/July 2006

NZ/Aotearoa 1200 jobs threatened at Air New Zealand! For an all-up Congress to debate the way forward!

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Hard on the heels of Air NZ threats to outsource the jobs of over 600 engineers, it now proposes to outsource the jobs of 120 cleaners, and is looking at doing the same to over 400 administration and cabin crew – over 1200 in all. The Engineers union (EPMU) has totally failed to defend workers jobs, selling some jobs in the hope of keeping others. All along it has relied on appealing to the public to put pressure the government to stop the job losses on the grounds that Air NZ is the national carrier. This is a strategy doomed to failure. It will not stop future jobs losses. The 200 jobs saved now could go next year. The time has come for Air NZ workers to reject the unions ‘partnership’ with Air NZ management and the government and to build a rank and file strike committee across all the unions involved. But rather than walk off the job and leave the airline to lock them out and replace them, workers need to look at what workers in Latin America have done, and workers in the US are planning, workplace occupations and work to rule.

We need an all-up national Congress to debate the way forward!

Air NZ attacks its workforce

After 600 jobs were threatened by Air NZ management in October, in February the Engineers union EPMU came up with a deal to save 300 engineers jobs by sacrificing more than 200 jobs, shift conditions and wages. At that point it looked like a done deal so Air NZ management announced the redundancy of 120 cleaning staff. But then a handful of Christchurch Engineers refused to sign up. The wage cuts and loss of conditions were not acceptable. Air NZ’s response was to threaten to close the Christchurch workshop.

Within a day the workers voting ‘no’ had folded and the deal was done. 300 Engineers jobs would be saved because the frame maintenance would not be outsourced overseas. No sooner had this been confirmed, Air NZ announced a further body blow to workers. 470 administration and cabin crew are to be made redundant and some of their jobs outsourced to foreign workers.

Air NZ management’s approach is a typical capitalist response to the situation many airlines are in. They are driven in their role as agents of capital to restore profits for the owners. Worldwide airline industry profits have fallen over the last decade, as part of the general trend, (Marx described this as the ‘tendency for the rate of profit to fall’). Basically the airlines have to spend more on fuel and replacement aircraft (constant capital) while the airline workforces are cut through decreased staffing levels, casualisation (variable capital), yet the workers are the only source of new value!

The capitalist class takes their crisis to the workers. The airlines try to restore profits through cuts to the workers wages, conditions and through efficiency gains – to increase the rate of exploitation. Airlines have also sought alliances, amalgamations, and buy outs to gain efficiency through greater economies of scale (Marx – the concentration and centralisation of capital). Their struggle to restore profits, at the expense of workers, is the guts of the capitalist crisis. Maintaining, cleaning, stewarding and flying the aircraft are jobs that can be done by outsourcing to the cheapest labour.

Air NZ management hope to restore profits by making workers redundant and finding cheaper ways to maintain, service and operate their aircraft. These are attacks on all airline workers, but more than that the whole working class, as the defeats of airline workers in any country weaken the international labour movement. Typically, the response of the unions, in particular the EPMU that covers most of the Engineers, is to negotiate the loss of some jobs to save others. They appeal to patriotism by blaming foreign workers for taking local jobs. They demand that the government (especially when it is the majority shareholder) acts in the national interest to ‘save jobs’.

The EPMU response is a sell out!

The Engineers union (EPMU) response to the crisis has been get a consultant in to respond to Air NZ management’s proposal. Essentially the union has said: ‘we can restructure the workforce better than employers can. We can restore profitability and do it without as many jobs losses as Air NZ management proposed’. Like it has done on other occasions the EPMU is doing the job of management or employers in response to a crisis of profitability.

Should the working class be grateful that the EPMU and the Airline cooperated to save 300 jobs by selling another 200 jobs? Or that the remaining workers will have to work harder, longer, more unsocial hours for less pay? Loss of jobs or conditions is a loss, and a failure of the union to offer anything better. If jobs go or if conditions of overtime and regular work hours are lost, that is a sell-out by the EPMU. To protect some jobs at the loss of others (jobs and conditions) is trading the livelihoods of those workers.

So when some of the Christchurch engineers voted ‘no’ to the union/management deal to ‘save jobs’ they were told they were the ones selling out the 300 jobs! This is where divide and rule gets you. NZ workers pitted against Chinese workers, and Auckland workers pitted against Christchurch workers, instead of everyone being united against the boss!

And while the Engineers are infighting over the price of jobs sold, the other Air NZ workers, cleaners, cabin staff and other in the firing line, are left to fight alone. Why is this? Why does a union operate like it knows better than the boss how to run the company?

Why, because in the EPMU, the union is in a ‘partnership’ with the employers. In the view of Andrew Little, a view shared by the CTU top officials, there are ‘good’ capitalists (the ones they can work with) and ‘bad’ capitalists, (the ones where the unions can do a better “management” job). This is the usual practice of a union that is part of the union bureaucracy and functions as the labour lieutenants of the capitalists in the labour movement. It is a union that is locked into the capitalist system and fails to challenge the capitalists’ attacks on workers. But like a new paint job on a less fuel-efficient airplane, the EPMU leadership cannot hide from workers that rates of profit are falling. Capitalism demands from the working class ever increased efficiency and ever rising exploitation.

The need for rank and file control of unions

The treacherous leadership of the Labour Party and the EPMU has left workers with no choice but to organise independently of the established leadership. The real union saying: “An injury to one is an injury to all”, takes a class approach to the attacks on workers. Any cuts will do lasting damage to workers as a class – those jobs, and the conditions sold out will be lost forever. Jobs will not re-appear at Air NZ for the next generation of workers. When workers return to work in the coming months, and look around themselves, then they will see less workmates, and worse conditions.

To change this, workers need to be independent of the state. The response of the government to the Air NZ deal proves that the state belongs to the capitalists. This exposes the capitalist nature of the NZ State and the Labour Party. The NZ Government remains the majority shareholder of Air NZ, a hangover from the last time it was baled out by the government. But this was just to rescue Air NZ to prepare it for privatisation. At no time has the Labour Party leadership taken any action to protect workers jobs; instead they give their backing to the strategy of the EPMU to cut jobs and restore capitalist profits. The whole point of this massive job shedding and cost cutting is to get Air NZ ready to be snapped up by one of its much bigger rivals.

Overseas the one sure way that workers have protected themselves from the collapse of inefficient or unprofitable capitalist companies has been to occupy and run the workplaces themselves, sometimes demanding no compensation to the bankrupt capitalists.

In Argentina when factories and Hotels went bankrupt, workers took over and ran run the places as cooperatives. In Venezuela, whole industries like oil, aluminium, paper etc are now led by plants run jointly by workers and the state. But instead of fighting union by union, or plant by plant, these occupations combine the unions and draw in wide support from working class communities. The struggle over how these occupations can go from occupations to genuine socialist property is then up for grabs.

A similar strategy applied in NZ would see unions stepping outside the ERA provisions which put strict limits on strike action, to back one another up. Occupations of Air NZ workshops would quickly bring the airline to a halt. The wider working class can offer support to Air NZ workers. Picket lines of hundreds or thousands of unionists in Auckland and Christchurch, activists from other unions (NDU, SFWU, Unite etc) and unorganised workers could defend the engineering sites for the benefit of the whole working class.

If all airline workers came out together they could return to work on their terms. They could prove that they could keep the airline running efficiently and safely. The rising cost of jet fuel could be solved by doing deals with Venezuelan workers who operate its oil industry, or with China which is currently doing huge bilateral deals for oil, gas, soy beans etc with the Latin American governments of Lula in Brazil, Chavez in Venezuela and soon, Evo Morales in Bolivia.

The whole thrust of workers control is to replace the capitalist management and its union ‘partners’ with industry that is democratically planned to meet social needs rather that private profit.

All-up Congress of rank and file unionists to defend jobs and conditions!  

  • Because the EPMUs deal signals only the start and not the end of job selling, a strike committee made up of rank and file representatives of all Air NZ workers is urgently needed. But this fight cannot be isolated to the airlines. 
  • Build links with other workers whose jobs are also in danger like at Fonterra. Prepare working class support for self-defence pickets.  
  • What is needed is an all-up congress of rank and file unionists to debate the way forward.  
  • Prepare to occupy the engineering workshops and hangars!  
  • For working class communities to build mass pickets to defend the occupations!
  •  Put aircraft maintenance, service and operation under workers control, without compensation to the private shareholders of Air New Zealand!

From Class Struggle 65 Feb/March 2006

600 Air New Zealand jobs under attack

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The Alliance came out with some radical ideas about worker occupations and workers control in response to the threat of job losses at Air NZ. CWG acknowledged these good ideas and took them further

In an article on Aotearoa Indymedia on 27 October titled “Creative destruction” by Air New Zealand’ Len Richards of the Alliance wrote:

“The announcement by Air New Zealand of the sacking of a highly skilled workforce is a massive disinvestment in New Zealand. If the government will not act, the workers can. They should take a leaf out of the Argentinean workers’ book and occupy the maintenance hangers to keep them going.

Six hundred workers are to be thrown onto the economic scrapheap by Air New Zealand. The company, which is 82 per cent government-owned, has decided to transfer the heavy maintenance of its aircraft off-shore to Europe and Asia. This is expected to save $100 million over the next five years (ie $20 million a year on average). This is a company that made $250 million profit this year and expects to make $100 million next year. The redundancy costs will be $13 million.

Air New Zealand claims it cannot find enough work for all its maintenance engineers. Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, washed his hands of the announcement, saying that it is “company business”. This is the government welcomed by the Council of Trade Unions as having a “commitment to an investment approach to economic and social development”. The announcement by Air New Zealand of the sacking of a highly skilled workforce is a massive disinvestment in New Zealand. It is reminiscent of the closure of the railway workshops in the early 1990s which destroyed a similarly skilled workforce and dismantled another significant section of this country’s industrial infrastructure. The CTU must demand that the government intervenes to prevent this act of economic vandalism. . .

. . .The newly elected Labour-led coalition government should act urgently and “creatively”. It must step in to take direct control of Air New Zealand. These jobs can be saved if the government has the will to do so. If the government will not act, the workers can. They should take a leaf out of the Argentinean workers’ book and occupy the maintenance hangers to keep them going.

The loss of these engineering jobs is completely unnecessary. It is not about the engineering operation losing money. It is all about return on capital. It is about extracting more profit to ready Air New Zealand for another round of privatisation. The company chairman John Palmer is blatantly promoting a sell-down of the government’s shares. The government would do better to take-over the whole company. It could be run as a peoples’ co-operative under the control of the workers who, after all, know better than anyone how to operate the enterprise most efficiently.”

CWG replies:

“Good point about the management preparing Air NZ for re-privatisation. And the NZ economy as ‘third world’ being driven down the drain by profit. This shows a grasp of the seriousness of NZ’s decline in the world and the need for a strong socialist stand to lead the way forward. Air NZs predicament is classic and opens the way for the nationalising of assets and trading with other third world countries as the only way to combat monopoly capitalism.

The demand right now should be to take up the workers criticisms of failed management and put the company under workers control. Opening the books to the EPMU heads won’t prove anything other than cost cutting is necessary to return a profit. Profit in a state owned company should be rejected as the bottom line. The bottom line should be the public interest in a national asset build out of the labour of generations of kiwi workers.

So the demand should be to put the company under workers control and management to protect the accumulated wealth of workers as well the ‘public interest’. Why should the 600 workers under threat of sacking put up with a state owned corp run by private sector cost cutters who destroy the skill base of the working class while they strut around in Zambezi gear?

The rising costs of fuel and airports are inevitable while we are subjected to monopoly capital. Nationalisation under workers control (with no compensation especially after all those massive state subsidies!) is the answer. The airports should all be renationalised. The big oil company assets in NZ should be nationalised and oil sourced from Venezuela in a swap for food and agricultural technology.

While it’s necessary to demand that Cullen puts up a fight to keep these jobs, we know that he won’t even consider it unless put under huge pressure from workers. The 82% state shareholding is just a subsidy to the private sector. He won’t want to see the company profits fall and more subsidies being paid out when he wants to keep business on side.”

0n how to fight for occupations and workers’ control we added:

“It’s good that the Alliance has raised the example of the occupations in Argentina. Kirchner’s just been re-elected. He is a left Peronist with official union support not too dissimilar to Labour in NZ. But neither has any interest to take-over companies and run them as workers’ cooperatives. Cullen has said he will not subsidise Air NZ jobs. They HAVE to keep onside with global monopoly capital.

That’s why the solution has to be posed right from the start as a workers’ solution that workers’ can only do INDEPENDENTLY of the bosses’ state. So where to start at Air NZ?

The current Blairite partnership approach goes through the charade of the union officials doing their own audit for two months to see what cuts they can make the workers accept to keep some of their jobs. The EPMU logo is some for all, all for some. Meanwhile workers will be left out of the picture, worrying, or looking for other jobs.

This is the same blackmail that the US unions are using right now to force autoworkers to sacrifice their health insurance in the vain hope they can keep their jobs. As long as the union officials share the same view that companies must be profitable at all costs, the workers are the losers. see

The rank and file engineers need to organise now and take the dispute out of the hands of the EPMU officials. They need to reject the bottom line of profit, and the payment of a dividend to the state that goes straight into the consolidated fund to run the capitalist system. Anyway as an SOE Air NZ is doomed as a national carrier in this global environment and will be gobbled up by Qantas or Singapore sooner or later.

Instead the rank and file should put up a new bottom line – the workers’ need for safe, reliable air transport that can survive the oil shocks (get the oil from Venezuela!) and the race to the bottom of cutthroat (ours!) international airline competition. The engineers would have a say in whether it’s good for the peoples’ airline to buy carbon fibre planes at $170 million a pop.

That’s why Venezuela is a better map than Argentina of the socialist road. The factory occupations there are taking place as part of a society wide revolution where workers are pushing Chavez further and further towards outright expropriation. Oil, paper, gas, steel, and land is being nationalised and a huge fight is going on to turn co-management into real workers’ control. The result is that there is a better chance that when Chavez finally baulks, or if the US invades, the workers will be able to defend and complete their socialist revolution.

The great thing is that Venezuela is not a blueprint but an ongoing experiment, and it exists in the flesh and is not fated in advance to be either a pie in the sky reformist utopia, or a discredited Cuban style Stalinist regime. It is an open book where the workers are doing the reading and writing.

A page or two would go down well at Air NZ right now. A campaign to renationalise Air NZ under workers control could be generalised to extend to Telecom, Toll rail, CHH, BNZ . 

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06

Written by raved

January 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm

NZ and Australia | Bus drivers sold out | Huntly Miners Settle| EPMU | Universities | Reformist WOrkers Charter | For Rank and File Control | Solidarity unionism | IWW | Closures and sackings | Aussie unions march against Howard Government |

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Union Officials Sellout
Drivers, Officials and the Stagecoach deal

Many drivers are angry that they have been sold out by their union officials and end up with a take home pay cut. Some are taking court action under the ERA. Too little and too late! There are lessons for the whole union movement in the struggle of the Stagecoach drivers’ both for a living wage and for a democratic union that can really fight and win. We reprint below a leaflet CWG put out to drivers,

The recent deal is bad because, first, the $16 an hour Stagecoach deal is not available to all drivers. New recruits are on “training wages” for 3 months. These training wages are now extended over a longer period. These workers do the same work and may be used first for overtime (because of their lower rates).

Second, the $16 dollars was traded for a cut in overtime rates and extending ordinary hours from 40 to 45 before drivers get paid overtime. And the penal rate drops from time and half to time and a quarter. So in terms of money in pockets the loss of overtime means that a number of drivers will experience a wage-cut.

Meanwhile Stagecoach managers continue to look after their profits. Already they are saying some bus routes are unprofitable and they will cease to run them – unless the council (Auckland Regional Transport Authority) subsidises these routes.

The officials were working for the bosses rather than the members. They came out in public saying that the deals were OK. The delegates only went back to the workers when they decided, not the workers themselves. Most reporting back was done informally in conversations at depots.

The ratification on the last offer was done by splitting the workers into depots where they voted in improvised cardboard boxes. The all-up meeting on the Sunday did not suit drivers who were doing other things with their families. The workers were entitled to an all-up stopwork meeting on a weekday. In this way workers were prevented from a mass rally at which full democratic debate within the whole workforce was possible. Maybe this was done because a mass meeting had rejected the previous offer overwhelmingly after Froggat had gone on public radio saying it was a good deal!.

Three workers with the support of 100s of others have now taken legal action to challenge the deal. They argue that the short notice of the site meetings meant 309 workers missed those meetings and that the democratic process was compromised and distorted the results. They claim that the way the officials and Stagecoach management set the timing of meetings amounted to rigging the vote.

We agree that the union officials and Stagecoach have done a rotten deal for a large section of workers. We can understand that workers want to fight this. However, taking the legal road puts individual workers at a disadvantage relative to the employers. First the have to finance the legal action and second, it diverts efforts from building a fighting, democratic union.

Third, legal actions do not involve the rank and file and cannot undo the damage already done. The BEES group won a court case in the 1990s but got minimal compensation and has since dissolved. While those involved deny that they are being threatened with the sack or victimized, without strong backing from the rank and file, this is a strong likelihood.

The way to fight the company and the sold out union officials is to organise to roll Froggat and Co now!
Elect a new leadership and delegates capable of representing the interests of workers!
Defend everyone victimized by the company!
For a democratic, fighting union!

The Next Step: Rank and File Control!

The current situation

Many drivers we have spoken to are unhappy with aspects of the current bargaining round and that’s not just the latest offer.

1. Strike tactics: Some drivers see the 6 days strike as putting them in the position of being in debt and not keen to take further strike action. How was this 6 day strike decision taken? Were other tactics, e.g. one day strikes on very busy days such as Fridays considered? These tactics should be discussed and voted on in ALL UP meetings.

2. Strike funds: A strike fund should have been in place before the strike action was taken. We hear that these funds were used for barbecues. ALL UP meetings should elect a strike fund committee to take charge of these finances and fundraising with other unions and supporters.

3. Froggat’s attitude: What about Mr. Froggat’s statements on the news media that he thought the last offer was OK, and all he had to do was convince the drivers? How come Mr. Froggat gets paid a salary in line with the top paid ten drivers instead of the average wage? With Mr. Froggat sounding like he is the employers advocate why aren’t the negotiations in the hands of mandated drivers’ delegates?

4. Bargaining Team: How is the bargaining team elected? Or is it appointed? We hear that the different unions have equal representation on the bargaining team. Why is this when the EU and NDU have very few members, and even Akarana has only about 130 compared with the Tramways membership of around 850? The number of delegates on the negotiating team should be proportional to the size of each of the combined unions.

5. Ratification: What is this business of voting on the current offer at each depot and priming the delegates to sell the bosses’ offer? Delegates should represent the union members views not those of the officials or employers. The latest offer should be discussed and voted on at a STOPWORK of all drivers. The rank and file should control the meeting and raise any issue. Any suggestion that security guards are hired to close down debate must be condemned. Voting on the offer and on amendments from the floor should be by show of hands.

6. The New Offer: Many of the drivers we have spoken to are angry with the new offer. How is it better than the last one that was overwhelming rejected? We have seen the offer. It should be rejected.

· Drivers should stay solid on the $16 now! And backdated to the expiry of the last agreement. The new agreement should run for one year only so that drivers can start organising now for higher wages and better conditions next year.

· Overtime should remain at time and a half after 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. Future negotiations should look to reduce the ordinary hours worked and so that overtime starts after 37.5 hrs; 35 hrs; 32 hrs in successive agreements. Split shifts should also go.

· Reject the lump sum. Drivers we spoke to us saw this as a crude attempt to buy off the strike cheaply. It doesn’t even cover the debts run up in the 6 day strike. This one off payment will disappear quickly and does not improve your long-term earnings like $16 an hour and overtime at time and a half.

What must be done?

STAGECOACH IS A MULTINATIONAL COMPANY: It’s profits are subsidised by local bodies. It must be made to pay a living wage or be taken back into public ownership! There is widespread public support for the drivers’ case. Bus riders know that this is an important and socially responsible job. Let’s build on the solidarity of the drivers and campaign for more support from other unions and bus riders to win!

INFORMATION, EDUCATION, ACTION: Drivers need to meet together to discuss what is going wrong with these negotiations. They must immediately form a rank and file strike committee that links all the depots, comprising all those who not only want, but are prepared to work for, a better deal now.

RANK AND FILE DEMOCRACY: Drivers should demand that the negotiating team represents the views of the membership. Delegates must be elected and mandated from the union meetings. Delegates who don’t follow instructions should be replaced forthwith! Paid officials like Mr. Froggat should be banned from negotiations.

RATIFICATION: It is a basic principle of democratic unionism that ratification is on the terms of the rank and file members. Members should demand that ratification takes place in an Auckland-wide STOPWORK meeting, not depot meetings. In rejecting the current offer it should be the STOPWORK that elects delegates to a strike committee, and a strike fund committee, to come up with suggestions about future strike action and tactics for building union wide and public support to be taken back to ALL UPS for discussion and voting.

Communist Workers Group in Solidarity with Rank-and-File Drivers. Box 6595, Auckland. 025 280 0080.

Huntly Miners 3-week lockout ‘settled’

Solid Energy is a “state owned enterprise” (SOE) a label which the 1984-1990 Labour government first used to describe the free-market capitalist management for state property. The capitalist state has set up coal to run as a business. That means it exploits workers in an outright capitalist form, returning profits to the state, managed by another Labour government.

The workers, members of the Engineers Union (EPMU), have been negotiating over the rate of pay with the management of Solid Energy. During this process the management locked out the workforce. Of course the EPMU says nothing about the workers kicking out the management and taking control of the SOE! After all it believes in forming partnerships with the bosses in the private sector.

One of the biggest contracts for Huntly coal is the Glenbrook steel mill. Its owners, BHP Billiton, had decided to ship coal from overseas to run Glenbrook steel mill. BHP-Billiton is one of the major energy companies responsible for the super-exploitation and oppression of workers and farmers in Latin America. For example it part owns the new pipeline to carry Bolivian gas across Brazil.

Huntly miners approached workers of Glenbrook (also EPMU) and asked the workforce to ban the use of scab coal. Unfortunately Glenbrook workers refused. They said they could not strike in support as it would have broken their employment contract. However they did offer financial support. We know the EPMU leadership preach respect for the industrial law, but did they organize a fighting fund for the Huntly miners?

We heard that the miners were running short of money, and some approached the unemployment office for financial aid (and were denied this until they had been on strike for 3 weeks). Why did the officials to leave the workforce in a situation of no money? Who owns the union funds?! Striking and locked out workers need a strike fund under their control! A union that looks after its own would have plans to help members to pay their bills while they are involved in industrial action.

Miners were gagged – they were told not to discuss with anyone outside the union, including the media – apparently to avoid attacks on the union. Yet this same union advertises in the media, including funding pro-Labour Party adverts. Class Struggle demands: all up members’ votes on any donations to the Labour Party (or any other Party).

About an official of the EPMU one miner said, “We don’t want a bar of Sweeney down here”. Class Struggle agrees with a level of distrust of union officials – whoever they are. They can play a rotten role to sell out wages and conditions. This is because the role of union officials is only to negotiate over the rate of exploitation – not to end capitalist exploitation. The labour bureaucracy of the union officials is an appendage of capitalism that needs to be overthrown and the unions put under rank and file workers control.

So what have the EPMU dealt to workers this time? The Huntly workers returned for a 2 year collective agreement with a 5% wage rise now, and some areas getting 3% next year, others only 2%. These workers do a rostered 5 days (at 11hrs a day) and 4 days off, or can work an extra day, making 6 days on (66hrs) and 3 days off. That averages a 42hr week, or with an extra day, a 51hr week.

Meanwhile, other local workers are unemployed, and one of the biggest offices in town is WINZ. To overcome the overwork and poor pay and conditions of the workers and provide work for all, we call on the SOE to be renationalized under worker’ control!

One of the first moves of any industry under workers control must be to reduce the working week until the work is shared out on a living wage and good and safe conditions.

EPMU ‘looks after’ its officials first

We print a contribution by an EPMU member dissatisfied with the union followed by a few comments from us.
The recent 40cents a week hike in membership fees for members of the Engineering Printers & Manufacturing Union (EPMU) equating to a weekly increase of $20,000 into the union’s coffers, has highlighted the need for some transparency on behalf of the members, to be able to scrutinise an easily available audit of the union’s annual accounts. Since this undemocratic increase, members’ spouses & family have been cut from benefits.

Over the recent years the EPMU appears to have neglected its core duties towards it’s members, at the expense of funding it’s own bureaucracy. Delegates and Convenors are being manipulated by the Union to rubber-stamp the needs of the Union’s bureaucrats.

The funding of Union Organisers (using members funds) to stand for parliament on behalf of the Labour Party needs also to be seriously questioned. A particular example was in the 2002 General Election when the EPMU’s Lynn Pillay was put up by the Labour Party against the Alliance’s Laila Harre, an experienced Trade Unionist. Harre had a long sound record of genuinely supporting legislation for the improved conditions of lower paid workers.

There is nothing wrong with Union Organisers pursuing a career path outside the Union, especially when further career advancement within the Union has been exhausted. But senior staff within the Union should at least been seen to disassociate itself or take a guarded attitude to those Organisers that join employers who indulge in practices that are detrimental towards it’s low paid workforce many of whom are EPMU members.

A disturbing example of this is the recent appointment of an EPMU organiser becoming the Industrial Relations manager of Stagecoach with the blessing of the EPMU’s then president. (The EPMU backed Labour Party is quick to disassociate itself, from any Labour Party MP who party hops).

In 1999 it is believed that top senior employees within the EPMU, Rex Jones and Mike Sweeney were paid Salaries of $112,000 and $92,000 a year respectively. Today it can be assumed these salaries would have increased by at least 20%. Andrew Little’s current salary is believed to be a six figure sum, and with his ever-increasing profile it can be assumed he too is being groomed for a career as a Labour MP. There is nothing wrong with high salaries such as these, being paid to those whose performance is deserving of it. But how are these performances measured and by whom?

A common practice in other Trade Unions is that senior personnel on high salaries have to become re-elected to their positions every 3 years by ballot, from that particular Union’s members. This acts as a safety valve to protect the Union from becoming top heavy with carpet-baggers.

There have also been recent examples of rank and file EPMU members being faced with disciplinary action from their employer, when a member has a disagreement with their delegate. This misrepresentation by a delegate to their EPMU member could be easily rectified by newly elected delegates going on training courses, coupled with the more experienced delegates attending refresher courses. This could easily be funded by the EPMU’s financial resources.

The EPMU’s financial surplus gathered from the approximate $14 million a year revenue received from its members should be used primarily for the benefit of those whose money it is, the members. Such as going into strike funds for those striking members struggling to make ends meet when forced to take industrial action resulting from poor working conditions, like the workforce at Stagecoach.

The $100,000 spent to get EPMU organisers into parliament as Labour MPs, could have been used to help the striking workers at Stagecoach to maintain their industrial action.

If the members had access to an audit of the EPMU’s annual accounts the members could then decide for themselves, if they want to be a financial contributor to a Union that helps bankroll a political party in conflict with their own personal views. Thus members could become better informed in deciding if they should vote with their feet, and join a Union more conducive to their work related concerns.

We respond

This member picks up on a number of bad practices in the EPMU. But they are endemic in today’s highly bureaucratized, statized, and Labour Party serving, unions. He doesn’t go far enough in calling for rank and file control. Unions should be bound by the resolutions of annual conferences of delegates of the membership. All union officials and delegates should be under rank and file control, elected, mandated and instantly recallable. The accounts should be always open to scrutiny of members. Officials should be paid no more than the average members pay. All officials should not become career bureaucrats and return after a period of 3 years to the ranks. Unions should have no political affiliations that are not debated and renewed at annual conferences.

District Health Boards

The PSA (another pro-Labour union) is bargaining for a multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) across the 3 Auckland District Health Boards (DHBs). It tried to get a funding rise from the government to cover the wage increase the workers wanted. PSA members have voted for strike action, a one day (24hr) strike is planned for the 15th August. 12% to 20% increases for mental health nurses and allied health professionals (physiotherapists, psychologists, OT’s, Social Workers). However, why is the PSA leaving other support workers and administration staff out? The non-DHB workers are also left out of this deal. Par for the course for the union that pioneered ‘partnership’ between management and workers! PSA does not stand for Peoples’ Socialist Army.

Export or nationalise plants?
– Ford Wiri, Swanndri, CHH

Ion Automotive is the current title under which the old Ford plant at Wiri is running. They had continued to make Alloy wheels supplying Ford internationally after the Assembly plant closed down. The EPMU tells us that the last 500 jobs are to be exported as the major customers Ford in the US and Australia choose the cheapest supplier in Asia. This was only a matter of time as Ford produces a ‘world car’ made up of parts sourced in many countries. But there is not much option for nationalizing wheel hubs unless you get a synchronized move by unions in every Ford plant in the world to nationalize their world car parts. That needs a bit of international solidarity unionism! (see below)

Swanndri is about to lose 30 jobs in Timaru will be lost as the firm moves to China. The union talks emotional claptrap about losing kiwi jobs and a kiwi icon. But these jobs were never ‘kiwi jobs’ as capital is international and now so is the labour market. The only alternative to the global capitalist market is to occupy and socialize industry under workers’ control! The Brukman clothing factory in Argentina is a good model. Of course cooperatives need to be the collective property of all workers, not only those who work in the plant. And to survive they need to be backed by the nationalization of the banks and other industries under workers control. In NZ Swanndri could survive if it was part of a planned socialized economy along with the banks and major industries like forestry. . .

Carter Holt Harvey look like it’s about to bought from its US majority owners by Graeme Hart the kiwi multimillionaire and owner of Burns Philp.

It’s not that we especially like Kiwis before Yanks or Aussies. Kiwi bosses are no better or worse than any other. The fact is that CHH is a suitable case for nationalization under workers’ control. NZ has comparative advantage in cultivating trees. The biggest forestry firm is highly competitive and should be the first targeted by the unions as a model for workers’ ownership and control!

Universities strike for MECA
7 Universities are engaged in a prolonged dispute with their vice-chancellors to get them to recognize a national MECA and pay a ‘quality’ wage (10% this year). VCs are really CEOs as the universities today are run like State Owned Enterprises – funded mainly by the state but producing knowledge for private sector profits. So far after two 24 hour strikes and rotating one-hour strikes, only 2 of the VCs have expressed a willingness to join the MECA.

At Auckland University, VC Stuart McCutcheon is leading the opposition to the MECA saying that it will undermine the competitiveness of his university as an international ‘leader’. McCutcheon’s vision of Auckland Uni is laid out in the new Strategic Plan for the years up to 2012. He sees Auckland Uni as one of the world’s leading universities as measured by knowledge outputs and private investment in research. Unionists at Auckland University are gearing up for a long battle with McCutcheon to rescue the university from this neo-liberal push towards making it a provider of knowledge for profit and not for the public good.

Strike action has been put on hold by an agreement between the VCs and the unions to enter further negotiations. There is a urgent need to organize a strong rank and file to strengthen this struggle for a MECA and open a fight for workers control of the universities.

Aotearoa/New Zealand

We reprint below a draft of the program of ‘Workers Charter’ recently formed as a bloc of the Socialist Workers, Unite Worker’ Union leadership in Auckland and other ‘leftists’. The revival of the labour movement is long overdue in Aotearoa, and we certainly need a mass workers party. But we don’t need a party that replaces Labour as a parliamentary party. We need a revolutionary party.

The workers’ ‘rights’ raised are OK as far as they go. But they are no more than bourgeois democratic rights. They don’t say anything about workers owning and controlling the whole of society, just the ‘public’ controlling ‘social’ assets. Even the Wobblies (International Workers of the World) who are syndicalists (all we need is “one big union” to beat the bosses) say that workers’ and bosses’ class interests are fundamentally opposed! (see IWW statement in this issue)

In fact there is no definition of the working class to justify calling it a ‘workers’ charter. This is a dead give-away because both the SWP and McCarten are used to making alliances with those who are not working class. The SWP is the main driving force in the Respect Party in Britain, a cross-class organisation, and McCarten was in the cross-class Alliance for nearly 15 years before he became organiser for the Maori Party also a cross-class party.

This suggests that the purpose of the Charter is to build an electoral movement and to harness the new unions to found a new workers party, just like the old existing unions today serve the Labour Party. While the draft talks about workers ‘organising to extend democracy’, there’s nothing about our history where every workers’ right was won by workers’ might outside parliament (and taken away by parliament)

A Workers’ Dignity Party before long!
Militant workers in the past were never held back by lack of legal rights when they went on strike. They took that right against the advice of their officials whose job is to defend the bosses’ industrial law. These are called ‘wildcats’ and it was always officials that armed the guns to shoot them down! We have to learn from our history that the first step to workers power is workers’ independence from the state and its labour lieutenants in the labour movement.

The critical issues facing workers in countries where they are demanding basic rights to life and work, is about throwing out their rotten officials and occupying and controlling industry – as an independent class movement, and not cheerleading for ‘public’ ownership of ‘social’ assets, like Chavez who legislates for workers co-management with the state of industry under a bourgeois constitution.

This suggests that the kiwi Workers’ Charter is being deliberately linked to the reformist World Social Forum. Grant Morgan at the launch referred to several examples of workers unity that are headlined by the WSF, including Galloway’s Respect, the French ‘No’ to the EU Constitution; Venezuelan workers’ control of oil, Bolivian workers nationalization of gas and Portugal’s Left Party’s 8 MPs. The ‘unity’ in every case is a popular front that ties workers to bourgeois forces in doing deals with ‘democratic’ imperialism!

It confirms our view that the SWO, McCarten’s group and others on the reformist left are looking to form a new party to fill the void in the labour movement left by the rightward movement of Labour. But these currents are also moving right to contain militant workers inside popular fronts trapping them behind petty bourgeois or bourgeois leaders like Galloway, Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia.

The SWO has taken a further turn to the right with its international leadership burying itself in the anti-capitalist populist movement, kicking out its US group for not slavishly following this line, and now promoting Respect in Britain as an open popular front. The UK SWP has notoriously abandoned its defence of abortion rights to appease the Muslim Association. The SWO has now dropped its paper Socialist Worker and puts out a paper called ‘Unity’. It’s now clear what the SWO means by ‘unity’ – a broad coalition around the Workers’ Charter.

The founders of Workers Charter have a history of shonky shackups in New Zealand. McCarten and Casey when they were leading members of the Alliance were involved in a commemoration of the role of the ‘Cossacks’ (farmers sworn in as ‘special’ mounted cops to smash the general strike in 1913) in a conference titled ‘Comrades and Cossacks’ in 2003. One of the authors of the program below, Dean Parker, a long-time leftist writer and activist, wrote an article about the Comrades and Cossacks in Metro proving that the specials helped smash the strike, but still supported the commemoration.

Unity with Cops not unemployed workers

McCarten obviously agreed that specials would not be necessary to suppress striking workers today so long as he was in charge, and crossed a picket-line organized by Waitemata Unite!, and joined with senior cops to legitimate the role of the armed ‘specials’. Casey, herself a one time auxiliary cop from Scotland, has since written a book calling for the formation of ‘civilian’ constables in Aotearoa today! Joining or promoting ‘unity’ with the cops has no place in a Workers’ Charter!

McCarten spent the 1990s covering for Anderton in the Alliance. He now runs Workers’ Unite in Auckland, a new branch of the Unite union that organises casualised and low paid workers. While the Unite constitution calls for Unite to recruit low paid, unemployed and beneficiaries, McCarten’s union is exclusively for employed workers. This question and the fact that Workers’ Unite has poached workers belonging to other unions, has led to a dispute with Waitemata Unite! made up mainly of beneficiaries. This dispute has turned nasty with the national executive of Unite issuing an ultimatum to Waitemata Unite that it must stop its criticisms of McCarten or risk expulsion. What is really at stake here is the fact that McCarten put unity with cops ahead of unity with unemployed workers.

We are not at all impressed with the draft ‘workers’ Charter, nor those who have ‘united’ to draft it. It fails to call for the rebuilding of the unions on the basis of rank and file democracy. As fare as we can see Workers Unite is not under rank and file control. Independence from the Labour Party is not the same as independence from the bosses’ state. It substitutes for workers democracy, the bosses’ ‘democracy’ leading workers by the nose back down the parliamentary road. We think that what workers in Aotearoa need now is not a recyled left bureaucrats Charter, but a genuine rank and file movement in the unions that can take up the fight for ‘workers’ democracy’ and for socialism!

To kick off a serious debate on this question we reprint a IWW statement on Solidarity Unionism following the Workers Charter.


Every worker has the right to dignity. That right should be the heart of our society. Yet the right that is the heart of our society is the right of a privileged few to gather wealth from the productive Majority.

The end result has been a massive growth in social and economic inequality. The wealth of those on the “Rich List” gallops ahead while 25% of children grow up in poverty.

Market competition and free trade force workers into a race to the bottom. The global market treats workers as merely a commodity, exploited and discarded like any other.

Wars of conquest, like the U.S. colonisation of Iraq, expand corporate power at the cost of mass bloodshed and suffering.

Our humanity and the environment we depend on are being sacrificed to the God of Profit.

The Workers Charter upholds the following democratic rights as bringing dignity to workers:

* The right to a job that pays a living wage and gives us time with our families and communities.

While some work excessive hours, others are forced onto the dole. Everyone has the right to a job at a minimum wage of $20 an hour to guarantee a decent living for them and their families.

* The right to free public healthcare and education.

Access to decent healthcare and education is becoming dictated by bank balances. [Public hospitals should be adequately funded and fees should be abolished at schools and universities.] The system of student loans should be abolished and replaced with a universal student allowance for tertiary study.

* The right to decent and affordable housing [in a clean and healthy environment].

A secure and healthy home is vital to protect families. Rents and mortgages should be fixed at no more than 25% of income. One hundred percent no-interest loans could be provided in return for the right of the state to buy back at cost price when sold. Meanwhile big business has been ruining

our environment and depleting natural resources without regard to our future. Practical measures like free and frequent public transport are blocked by those who profit from this state of affairs. Workers are poisoned and killed on the job at an alarming rate.

* The right to unite and strike.

Workers have little power in the face of the trans-national corporations controlling the economy. We must be able to use the one power we have – withdrawing our labour – to protect ourselves and fellow workers without legal restrictions.

* The right to public control of social assets.

Following years of corporatisation and privatisation, working people have lost any control and influence over vital national economic resources. Industries like energy, banking, telecommunications, transport, vital to economic and social progress, need to be returned to public ownership and control.

* The right of all workers freely to express their own cultural identity.

All workers should have the right to be treated with dignity and respect whatever their job, place of birth, race, sex religion or sexual orientation.

* The right to organise with workers in other countries against corporate globalisation and war.

The scramble to control the world’s resources has led to increased militarisation and war. Trillions of dollars are wasted on weapons while millions die each year from preventable causes. No support should be given to wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan and the demands for cancellation of the debt of the third world countries should be supported.

These rights can only be secured by workers organising to extend democracy into every sphere of the economy and the state. The privileged few will resist. They will use their economic and political power to deny workers our democratic rights and human dignity.

A mass mobilisation around the Workers Charter can give us the strength to win the battle for democracy and claim our dignity.

The unions we need

The experience of the Tramways drivers shows that they need to kick out their officials and take over the running of the union. The existing unions are totally subordinated into the state machine via the ECA which sets the legal framework for industrial relations. It was the labour bureaucracy that capitulated and betrayed the workers in the face of the ECA in 1991.

Today, the ERA has restored some rights to unions so the bureaucracy can entrench itself further. This fits with the Labour Government’s concept of capitalism as a partnership between bosses and workers regulated by the state as a neutral referee. However the ref has been bought and works for the bosses.

As Trotsky pointed out, in the epoch of imperialism, unions become part of the bosses’ state machine. To advance the interests of workers it is necessary to break away from the state, from the straight jacket of labour law, and the labour bureaucracy who act as the bosses’ agents or ‘labour lieutenants’, and form politically independent unions.

It’s clear that the way forward for the unions is rank and file control. This means using the union rules to fight for complete rank and file democracy. Ordinary members are the union and elect delegates and officials mandated on rank and file policy, and immediately recallable if they fail to follow the mandate. The IWW has a few guiding principles that can be adopted as a start.

IWW Appeal to the Rank and File

1. Organize the unorganized into self-managed industrial unions. Unions built from the grass-roots by worker organizers. Unions run by the membership to address their own needs and aspirations on the job. Unions that are independent of government and political parties. Unions that welcome all wage workers and unemployed, regardless of nationality, race, gender, political or religious creed, sexual orientation, etc, on the basis of strict equality. Unions in which all officers are directly elected by those they serve and are immediately recallable by the membership. Unions in which remuneration for officers is tied to the average wage of the workers involved; where term limits for officers are strictly observed; and, where the officer returns to the job when their term in office is over. We call this Solidarity Unionism.

2. Re-organize the miss-organized of the business unions via establishment of shop-committees that can take direct action on the job in pursuit of workers’ needs outside of the restrictions of legal collective bargaining agreements. We reject dues check-off because joining a union should be a conscious commitment to solidarity not a “condition of employment”. We reject no-strike deals because we need to be able to act to defend and extend our rights at every opportunity. We reject “management’s rights” because they are inimical to our own.

3. Establish horizontal links between and among unions and shop committees to foster solidarity on a local, regional, national and international level. Build workers’ centers in every community to reach out to all sectors of the working class and unemployed, including their kids.

4. Solidarity Unionism recognizes no restriction on what we should strive for. Health and safety at work, the environmental and social impact of what we produce, shorter and flexible hours of labor, universal health care – everything is fair game! Ultimately, we reject the employing class’s so-called ‘proprietary rights’. We want to gain control of the means of life!

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On June 30, the Australian workers movement put on an impressive show of force. 120,000 marched through the streets of Melbourne and tens of thousands marched through other centres. They made it clear that they were not going to take this reactionary legislation lying down. The mood was militant. In Sydney, a day later, the efforts by the bureaucrats of Unions NSW to fragment the movement succeeded in decentralising meetings and reducing the march to twenty thousand workers.

The Sydney bureaucrats moved a motion deliberately aimed to be ambiguous. Militants interpreted the motion as supporting strike action. But Unions NSW has made it clear that strike action is the last thing that they want. They argue that it is “counter-productive”.

Strike action is in reality the only way that workers have to make employers and governments listen. It was strike action, in 1969, that released Clarrie O’Shea from prison and effectively smashed the Penal clauses legislation.

Kim Beazley made an impressive speech about how Labor will oppose this “un-Australian” legislation. Labor opposes this legislation not because it opposes penal clauses but because Howard wants to take industrial relations power away from the states and territories (all administered by Labor).

But it was Brack’s Labor which introduced some of the most reactionary anti-union legislation and which jailed militant unionist Craig Johnston.

Labor is arguing that that the status quo is good enough – to contain working class struggle. Workers must oppose all anti-union legislation whether introduced by Labor or Liberal. The only type of government which can really serve the working class is one based on working class power. It would be committed to expropriating the ruling class.

The buzz expression for the union bureaucrats has been “united front”, probably learnt off Bob Gould. For the third international, under Lenin, the united front was a tactic aimed at gaining an audience for communists amongst the most advanced layer of the working class. Workers needed to fight to survive. Communists were committed to struggle. The bureaucracy, tied to capitalism through its privileged material position will be exposed as both unwilling and unable to fight. Therefore communists will influence and win over this advanced layer of workers. This type of united front is not what the bureaucrats mean. What they want to do is defend their privileges and contain struggle.

Of course for the bureaucrats “building the united front” means falling in behind their agenda. They hate Howard’s laws but are comfortable with those of Carr, Gallop or Bracks. Labor is fighting this legislation because it means that their beloved state governments will lose power and because they believe the status –quo is good enough to contain struggle and keep wages down. The meetings especially in Sydney were stage managed. No amendments were permitted so the options were fall in behind their impotent protest or nothing. Whilst there is some basis for joint unity in action, in some tactical circumstances, in no way must we fall in behind their agenda.

One organisation falling in behind the united front is the “Communist Party” Their glossy publication was only distinguishable from a similar one produced by Unions NSW by their organisation’s authorisation, in the fine print at the bottom of the leaflet. There was no mention of strike action. What they offered was practical measures such as “ring talkback radio”, “contact your member of parliament” and other respectable suggestions.

The Socialist Alliance is endorsing a united front called ‘Defend Workers Rights and Unions Committee’ which at least called for strike action especially if a union official is jailed. What is required is not merely strike action to fight this legislation, but a political strategy to bring down the Howard government.

It is not only unions which his government is attacking but unemployed and pensioners, Black people, refugees and small farmers. Workers must win over these sectors to their struggle. Workers must unite with them to fight Howard.

Howard has a reactionary imperialist foreign policy. Australian troops are still in Iraq as part of the reactionary ‘Coalition of the Willing’. Australian troops will shortly be doing imperialism’s dirty work in Afghanistan. Howard’s whole reactionary agenda must be opposed.

But who will fight Howard? The Labor Party is totally impotent. Worse still, a future Beazley Labor government will continue the system’s reactionary agenda. Labor has abandoned any attempt to “roll back” (let alone abolish) the GST. This tax redistributes the tax burden from rich to poor. Labor has repudiated any opposition to work for the dole.

The only party which will consistently fight Howard is a revolutionary communist party. Such a party will not only fight Howard and his policies but the whole capitalist agenda supported by both major parties – Liberal and Labor. Such a party will support not another bourgeois parliamentary government but a workers and farmers government

Reprinted from RED #68 July 2005. Bulletin of the Communist Left of Australia

From Class Struggle 62  July-August 2005


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Leaflet reprinted in Class Struggle 50 May-June 2003

On the 28th of May 2003, it was announced in a joint press release by the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union and Carter Holt Harvey that the 3–month long strike at Kinleith pulp and paper mill, was over.

The settlement that was eventually reached by both parties, resulted from a period that saw the exhausting of 4 mediators and threats of legal action by CHH against the EPMU and individual workers.

When EPMU National Secretary Andrew Little stated in the press release that the health and safety issues at the heart of the unions concerns had been clarified to the unions satisfaction and that ratification by workers spelled the return to work, the question on the lips of workers was, “How many concessions had been made by the union in regards to the conditions that existed in the previous collective agreement that expired 2 years earlier?”

In order to answer the question, it is necessary to consider the comment made by Kinleith Chief Executive and CHH “hatchet man” Brice Landman after the settlement when he said that Kinleith had the chance to move forward again on a “sustainable basis”. First of all, the sustainability that Landman is referring to is a function of the necessary labour required at minimum cost to maximize profits sufficient enough to head off the effects of trading in a depressed market. In other words – the control of labour. This is an argument well understood by union negotiators conditioned with an “economism” mindset. The problem for workers is that it lays the way open for compromises and concessions that always favour the bosses.

The two key areas that were won by the company and prime reasons for CHH’s move against the union where the all-up “salarisation” of pay structures and the final say in the promotion and appointments of senior staff. Calling them concessions would be an understatement.

The “red herring” of the company wanting production workers to replace the full time professional fire service amounted to CHH using an unrealistic proposition to apply leverage in a trade-off against the union so that eventually the

salary and promotion issues could be brought in. The cost of maintaining the Fire service amounts to less than the salary of CHH half owners International Paper CEO John Dillon’s US$8.96million, the result of a 62% pay rise last year even though IP lost a net sum of US$880 million.

Adding yet more “red herrings”, legal action against the EPMU and senior Kinleith delegate James “Whisky” Hastie, were instigated by CHH for supposed damages from earlier strikes. The attempt to extend the lawsuit against a further 6 workers was described as “tactical industrial strategy” by EPMU lawyer Dr Rodney Harrison. Whichever way one looks at the strategy used by CHH, it clearly had the effect of pressuring the union to accept the new conditions of employment.

A further example of tactical manipulation against the union was CHH’s refusal to settle the long drawn out negotiations over 2 years for a new collective agreement, because it wanted to exhaust all of the union’s resources to the point that workers would settle individually on the company’s terms. When laid-off maintenance workers were rehired by ABB Contractors, it was on an individual basis, though some remained members of the EPMU, a right protected under law.

Voices from the Rank and File

CHH’s serious lack of “Good Faith” reminiscent of the bad old days under the ECA seems to have done it no harm at all. Political non interference especially by local MP and Minister of Defense Mark Burton who was more sympathetic to the company; highlighted an expression by Bill (not his real name), one of the striking workers, when he said that the Labour Party was no longer a workers Party. It had caused him and others to question the role of the EPMU as an affiliate of the Labour Party. He went on to say that he could not understand why the dispute had dragged on for as long as it did and why some workers were saying that they could smell a rat, but could not put a finger on it.

Bob (not his real name) a veteran of 33 years at the mill, said none of the bosses who run Kinleith actually live in Tokoroa.

“Landman and the rest of them come from Taupo, Rotorua and Cambridge; they don’t belong to the local community or live in the immediate environs. It’s them and us as far as I’m concerned. Bugger the lot of them I say!”

Rex (again not his real name) one of the site delegates and almost 30 years at the mill had this to say.

“The level of support that we have been getting from locals, and workers from other unions and work sites has been great. A couple of tonnes of spuds were sent from some watersiders over in Tauranga who ended up dumping their company union for a proper one. We received plenty of food stuffs from all over to be distributed among all the affected workers and their families not to mention the wild pork and meat hunted locally by some of the boys when they’re not on protest camp duty. The really amazing thing though, has been the nearly $10,000 that we have been receiving from supporters each week during the strike. What you get to appreciate during a “blue” (strike/dispute) such as ours, is the amount of solidarity within the rank and file and its importance. No doubt being rural and isolated helps to amplify the effect of that support. But it shows that real strength for all workers can only come when we are all united. Some of the blokes who remember the bitter split after “91”when the bulk of Kinleith joined the “Engineers” (EPMU), some of us were a little embarrassed when a “Woodies” (NDU) delegation came over from Tasman Pulp and Paper to show solidarity with us. If the shoe was on the other foot, we would go and support them in similar circumstances.”

Joe (not his real name) now retired having spent most of his working life at the mill as a “Pulpy” and not an “Engineer”, reflects on the real characters of the union movement who were the towers of strength.

“Quite simply they were the core of the Rank and File. They never occupied positions of official office, more a limitation of their lack of education, I reckon. But given the right political direction some of them could have become revolutionaries. I remember wanting to belt the crap out of union sell-out bureaucrat Ray Hamilton years ago and feeling the anger that was there and its still there. Characters like Hamilton are still with us today running unions like they were their personal little empires.”

Where to now?

When union-busting American forestry company International Paper bought into CHH more than a decade ago, it did so quite conscious of the fact that the ECA of the day provided the right environment for it to exploit the fast growing forests to supply the rapidly rising demand in Asia. Through its practice in the US and Mexico of forcing the closure of mills to counter unions and militant workers, it thought that applying the same methods in NZ would effect similar results if it thought that its interests were being threatened.

We have seen in the last 10 years the slashing of Kinleith’s work force from nearly 2000 down to 270, pulp and paper production at record levels – way in excess of 500,000 tonnes, the longer hours and accompanying stress for the workers. The rate of worker exploitation has increased 8 fold with the acquisition of machinery bought as part of a $900 million up-grade over the last 13 years. The profit returns on investment last year amounted to $137 million or less than 7% of the injected capital which was more reflective of the depressed international commodity prices at the time.

IP/ CHH finds itself in the undreamed of position (from a capitalist point of view) of existing at a time when the lone super-power in the world, the US, has the means to force economic conditions on workers (militarily if necessary), favourable to grossly exploitative Tran-National Corporations. The US conquest of Iraq is the best illustration of what can be expected where it is dictating the terms to bring its workers under its thumb.

Written by raved

January 6, 2009 at 7:56 pm


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Carter Holt Harvey is now NZ’s No 2 company after the sale of Fletcher Energy, behind only Telecom. It is owned by International Paper one of the world’s biggest and most technologically advanced producers of pulp and paper. CHH has aggressively restructured its NZ operations over the last three years, cutting costs and streamlining operations. This has led to an improvement in its profits at the expense of jobs and working conditions. But it is now faced with a slowdown in the world economy and all time low prices for logs and a world slump in paper pulp prices. CHH has already shown itself willing to attack its workforce and now it has no option but to continue these attacks to stay competitive. Workers on guard!

Best practice or worst practice?

CHH was one of the first to take advantage of the ECA to defeat its powerful timber union after a 13-week strike in 1992. Most of those workers who remained at Kinleith joined the EPMU which has a philosophy of working in ‘partnership’ with employers. To stay competitive CH’s CEO Chris Liddell is a fan of new business methods based on ‘best practice’. The EPMU tries to keep pace with these best practices which in the last analysis mean increasing worker exploitation as workers deliver more ‘value for money’.

This means the company adopts the most advanced methods in production, transport and supply, speeding up production and cutting costs. This is the knowledge economy in your face. According to Liddell the most successful global companies have fewer and fewer workers. The top ten US companies are today five times as big but employ fewer workers. Best practice for profits is worst practice for work conditions and job security.

Take “flexibility”. CHH has spent half a billion on new fibreboard plants in Australia and a veneer plant in Whangarei. But it closed down Mataura with 155 job losses and one shift at Kinleith with the loss 23 jobs. It upgraded its Kinleith plant during the day forcing the two remaining shifts to work nights from 4 pm and 12 pm.

After two accidents caused by fatigue, 60 workers occupied the plant and refused to work at night for 10 days before Christmas last year. When it had no work it closed the plant for a week. So “Flexibility” for CHH means workers losing their jobs and working under worse, dangerous conditions, or having week-long split shifts. This is preparation for the ultimate in ‘flexibility’ –the casualisation of work were the boss is free to dictate the terms and conditions of work.

CHH “picking winners”

Another principle favoured by CEO Liddell is “picking winners”. CH has invested in eCargo a NZ company that matches the freight needs of companies with transport companies on an Internet site to drive down costs. CHH has invested in an Aussie E-commerce company called Cyberlynx which streamlines “supply chain operations’. In plain language this is an internet “just in time” delivery system reducing both delays and stockpiling of goods and services.

CHH recently introduced what it calls the i2b programme where it held a competition among workers for new ideas to make more money for the company. One winner was chosen because he was seen selling Xmas trees on the street. CHH management did hand out prizes to the 750 workers laid off for a compulsory weeks holiday on January 26 for doing much more creative things to pay their bills.

Most daring, CHH has spun off a Human Relations company called ‘Mariner7″ to sell all its ideas on how to exploit workers more efficiently to other companies. One of these ideas is to create company unions to smash what remaining influence existing unions have in defending jobs and conditions. And where workers fight back it means using scab labour and company unions to enforce ‘best practice’ i.e. worst practice.

Mainland Stevedoring

Carter Holt Harvey saved its best move to contract an ‘independent’ union, Mainland Stevedoring, to load logs by using computers to pack more logs into the holds. This was a ‘best practice’ that directly challenged the WWU and threatened to casualise wharf labour practices even more than they already were. Even though this was a threat every bit as serious as in 1951, the WWU leadership has chosen to steer industrial action back into parliament. The best that the Labour-Alliance Government could offer was ‘mediation’, that old golden cow that the ‘class neutral’ state could try and negotiate a deal between CHH and WWU.

But that would have been a ‘bad practice’ for CHH since it would give in to union ‘monopoly’ and stand over tactics. The CTU President Ross Wilson chimed in saying that “we remain committed to the mediation process”. He complained that peaceful pickets had been undermined by “police over-reaction and the use of confrontational tactics”. Meanwhile while the CTU and the WWU appeal to the police, the government and the company to ‘be fair’, CHH gets its logs loaded on the cheap and workers lose their jobs.

CHH picking on losers?

So far CHH has been able to win what it wants by picking off sections of the workforce under separate union coverage. The occupation over night shift was a good move and succeeded in winning back a day shift. This should be the lesson – more industrial action at the point of production, to stop CHH where it hurts.

WWU has marshalled hundreds of supporters on their picket line, but no concerted union support has meant that cops and scabs got through every time. Worse, small groups and individuals were isolated and bashed by the cops. The defeat of these pickets was only because they were not mass pickets.

The MUA struggle in Australia in 1998 showed that mass pickets have the potential to win much wider support and prevent both police and scabs from access. Similarly, despite their limits, the Kinleith occupation and the WWU pickets have put pressure on the national CTU leadership to organise its own campaign against CHH to try to settle the disputes. We welcome this initiative but expect that left to the CTU leadership it will do no more than tie workers to the ERA legal framework of the so-called ‘partnership’ between labour and capital.

Mediation and ‘partnership’

The problem with mediation as practiced by the CTU and in particular the EPMU, is that it believes, like the Labour Government, that industrial disputes can be settled by good faith and compromise. But even the NZ Herald does not believe this. In an editorial on 27 January 2001 it said “…mediation is of little use, and may well be detrimental, when fundamental principles are in conflict.”

Of course the NZ Herald thinks that the principle at stake here is the right of CH to employ whatever union they like. The Herald’s owner Tony O’Reilly, like CHH, won’t compromise this principle. This is why all the negotiations between the CTU, CHH and government have failed already.

The ERA does not allow workers to stop scabs working unless agreements are being negotiated. And this Labour-Alliance Government is not going to amend the ERA to ban scab unions. That would be regarded by the bosses like Stephen Tindall of the Warehouse as an open attack on their class. After the rough ride it got on taking office, Labour will do anything to avoid upsetting the bosses again.

This means that to defend the principle of union labour against scab labour, workers have to break the law just like the Kinleith occupation and WWU picketers have done over the last weeks. But the key is to do it as a mass of thousands of workers so that workers organised might can win and become the basis of their labour right.

A Winning Workers’ Campaign

A successful campaign needs to mobilise all CHH workers to stop production. Just as CHH has deliberately streamlined its business internationally to minimise disruptions in the supply, production and marketing of logs and pulp, CHH workers need to organise internationally to interrupt this process at the most vital points.

  1. Stop work at the plants. Occupations are the best method since workers occupying the workplace makes it more difficult for bosses to run the plant. Kinleith workers have shown that they can take such action and win. On a larger scale which stops production completely, the boss has to make concessions. Workers in Australian and North American plants should be encouraged to take solidarity actions.
  2. Stop the flow of raw materials and finished products. CHH has attempted to reduce this risk by using non-contracted casualised carriers. But the organised drivers under the NDU would be able to stop the flow of logs and paper pulp. French truckies have shown that they can blockade the nation’s transport system and force Government’s to make concessions. International bans by dockers in Korea and the US played a big part in the MUA struggle.
  3. Mass pickets to prevent the use of scab labour. The WWU pickets have failed only because they were not supported by thousands of workers like the MUA pickets in Australia. It’s true that the MUA pickets were undermined by scab workers, but the mass pickets were not generalised because they were not under rank and file control. Any union policy that downplays pickets as publicity stunts designed to embarrass bosses or governments needs to be replaced by a policy of REAL, MASS, pickets.
  4. International union bans on CHH products. Because CH is a multinational, and has diversified into e-commerce operations such as eCargo, Cyberlynx and Mariner7, an important part of international solidarity with striking CHH workers is a ban on all CHH products and services. As well as providing solidarity this would have an important educational benefit as these goods and services are used to speed up production in order to increase the exploitation of workers.

To mount such a campaign, the rank and file members of the unions involved in dispute with CHH, including EPMU, NDU and WWU, must call an ‘all up’ meeting of the combined unions to plan a campaign and to elect delegates to a strike committee to organise and lead that campaign.

The issue of ‘breaking the law’

Picketers ‘breaking the law’ has been the constant refrain from the radical right like ACT. But from a workers’ perspective any law that is used to limit their freedom to organise to defend their basic rights and conditions has to be broken. The bosses rely upon workers observing the law to get what they want. They use labour law to impose ‘mediation’ only when they know that this is on their terms. When it’s not they do not hesitate to break the law! There is only one law and that is the bosses’ law.

Strike action to be effective is illegal under the ERA. But rather than isolating and exposing a few militants to the force of the law, mass action has the potential to build workers’ power in the workplace and challenge the law. For example the MUA pickets in 1998 were technically illegal, but because they were massive, workers forced the company and the Government onto the defensive.

The SWO call for a union ban on CHH products is tactically wrong. It is a tactic that should only be used to ban the handling of products already subject to strike action. By itself it interrupts the circulation of goods but it does not stop the production process. If a union ban is called in isolation of CHH workers taking strike action, at best it would be ineffective, but at worst it would isolate unions indirectly linked to the dispute and not backed up by mass strike action, exposing them to the forces of the state.

Rebuild the Unions!

We are opposed to moves by the CTU to limit the development of industrial action to the rule of law represented by the ERA. We are opposed to promoting illusions that present the interests of workers and employers as ‘harmonious’, or in ‘partnership’. This is a partnership where one partner is getting screwed, that is the workers who create the wealth including the boss’s profits.

We are for the rebuilding of the union movement from its present low ebb where less than 20% of workers are members and even fewer are covered by collective agreements. We are for workers reclaiming the right to strike by taking action independent of the state. The right to strike is the might to strike and it can only be won by strong, organised unions.

  1. Build Fighting, Democratic unions based on the rank and file membership.
  2. For the election of delegates by the rank and file, who are accountable to the rank and file and subject to immediate recall if they vote or act contrary to their mandate.
  3. For all-up meetings of the rank and file to decide strategy and tactics.
  4. For strike committees elected by the rank and file.
  5. For international solidarity among unions, and the election of international strike committees in disputes against multinational companies.

For an immediate all-up meeting of members of CHH unions to plan a campaign against CHH and to elect a strike committee of the combined unions to lead the campaign

CTU meeting to plan campaign against CHH

A combined meeting of the CTU and the unions associated with CHH was held in at Ngongotaha on 14 March. The unions represented included the Waterfront Workers, Engineers, NDU and Seafarers. The purpose of the meeting was to strategise a union approach to CHH moves against unions. Also present were some of the CHH site delegates from around the B.O.P/ Waikato region.

Because this correspondent was not a direct participant in the meeting and delegates were sworn to secrecy, the outcome of the meeting has yet to be verified. The promise of a short statement from the meeting did not eventuate.

Outside the conference venue was what could be loosely described as a united front action consisting mainly of SWO members and supporters. Also present were 3 members of the CWG. Both groups acting independently distributed leaflets and literature on the issue of CHH and the unions.

Of interest was the response of those participating in the meeting towards the leaflets. Because the tactics being advocated by the SWO called for union bans on CHH products, this was not taken favourably by the CHH workers who were present. They believed that bans would affect their jobs and livelihoods. It would have been better for the CHH workers themselves to decide on a course of action rather than have one imposed from the outside. “Bunch of students” was one of the comments passed on by one of the delegates during the lunch break, the only time when any indication of the mood of the meeting was made.

Also mentioned was the cool atmosphere between the NDU wood sector delegates and the engineers. Their cooperation was made possible only because both unions now came under the umbrella of the CTU for the common purpose of dealing with CHH.

As we predicted in our leaflet, a hint was let drop of a tripartite meeting to be held between the Government, CTU and CHH. CHH was not pleased with the CTU getting involved, but seems to have agreed that a meeting with Government was better than the spectre of militant union action.

On a positive note, the CWG leaflet “All Out to Stop Carter Holt” was welcomed. It reflected a rank and file perspective putting the initiative on the CHH workers themselves with a bit of prodding from a certain left-wing quarter. Arising out of this leaflet a CWG member was nominated for national vice president of the NDU wood sector by B.O.P/Waikato rank-and-file delegates at Kawerau on 25 March.

This at least gives recognition to the realistic program being promoted by the CWG although it is early days yet. The complete understanding of this program by the wood sector workers and others can only help to strengthen the level of consciousness among workers to take on the likes of CHH.

From Class Struggles No 38 April-May 2001

Written by raved

August 27, 2007 at 10:15 pm