Communist Worker

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

Archive for the ‘IWW’ Category

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