Communist Worker

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

Archive for the ‘rank and file control’ 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

International MayDay, One Class! One Fight! Occupy, it’s our right!

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On this day ever since the hanging of four workers in Chicago in 1886, arising out of a strike for the 8 hour day, workers around the world have come together in marches, rallies and strikes, to celebrate their common membership of an international working class that continues to struggle against all its class enemies for its emancipation from the chains of capitalism.

The struggle continues because international capitalism cannot survive without a constant increase in the exploitation and oppression of every worker who produces its profits. In the process it destroys resources, steals land, closes factories and expels workers from production. Most destructive of all, it recruits jobless workers to go to war and invade countries like Afghanistan and Iraq to seize their scarce resources.

When workers resist and try to reclaim their countries, their resources, schools and factories, they are asserting their right to own and control the means of production necessary for life. Here we can see the common factor behind all of these struggles; it is the spontaneous struggle of all those excluded from production or trapped in wage slavery, to assert their class independence and take control of the means of production to meet their basic survival needs.

Mayday 2006 Unite all the struggles around the world

Today many such struggles are taking place around the world. Peasants are fighting to retain or get land; factory workers are fighting to survive closures; women workers are fighting to keep their families together and against violence; young workers are fighting for an education, and decent jobs, a living wage and social rights. Unemployed recruited into imperialist armies or warlords militias are refusing to follow orders. Iraqis, Afghans, Africans, Melanesians, Colombians, etc. are resisting imperialist occupations and fighting for their national independence.

Peasants and agricultural workers in the Solomon Islands, in Bolivia and Brazil, India and China, Nigeria and South Africa, resist the removal of their land for capitalist agriculture, or extraction of oil, gas, timber or minerals etc. by the giant multinationals based in the imperialists countries. Many of these peasants are indigenous peoples who retain their own social structures and cultures. Their universal response to these attacks is to occupy the land.

Take the land, but join forces with workers and also take the trucks, the ports and the banks!

Industrial workers, whose wages and conditions deteriorate under the increasing exploitation forced on them by the IMF, World Bank and WTO, resist in many countries. In Latin America, around a third of the work-age population is without work, and another third lives in the ‘black’ economy of undocumented, super-exploited, dangerous, virtual slave labor. Where workers are cast out of production, their instinct is to occupy and continue production.

Turn the occupations into expropriations!

In the United States the 12 million undocumented ‘illegals’ have poured into the country from the South, West and East, and perform the most menial, dangerous and servile work. They are under immediate threat of being criminalised, arrested, deported, or turned into ‘guest’ workers regulated and repressed by Bush’s Department of Homeland Security. Wherever ‘illegals’ stand up and fightback, as they are doing today in the US, they are criminalized, deported or locked up in the Guantanamos of this world.

Long live the ‘illegal’ worker! We are all ‘illegals’!
Close down the Guantanamos!

Women workers continue to bear the brunt of the worst exploitation and oppression. On top of the burden of child care and support, women still do the low-paid, menial, insecure work. As the capitalist crisis of the 80s and 90s has shifted much industry from core capitalist states to the ‘third’ world, women have filled many such jobs in the maquiladores of Latin America, the shantytowns of Africa, and factory dormitories of China and India, and borne the brunt of family breakdown, rape and murder. Because of this women take the lead in struggles for land rights, indigenous rights, factory occupations, and human rights. They are asserting their right to break out of domestic slavery and to take ownership and control of the means of production.

Forward the woman worker!
Abolish domestic slavery!

Young workers are also among the most vulnerable, facing, unemployment, discrimination and ‘precarite’ – lack of job security. In December of last year the unemployed youth of the migrant communities in France rebelled against the police as the agents of capitalist repression. In March of this year university students, high school students and workers in auto, rail, and the state sector took to the streets to stop the latest reactionary labor law giving bosses’ freedom to hire and fire young workers. They occupied universities, schools, and blocked railways and roads to prove that they too can take over and control, if only symbolically for now, the means of production, distribution and exchange.

Occupy the schools and universities under student/worker control !
For free education to all!

 
Soldiers are workers or peasants in uniform, drafted to fight the wars of their bosses by killing and looting the peoples of the colonies and semi-colonies. They are mainly poor, unemployed youth drawn from peasant, migrant, or stateless families. If these troops refused orders the capitalist military machine would disintegrate. In Bolivia, Venezuela and Iraq some ordinary ranks have mutinied against their officers and sided with the masses under attack.

For rank-and-file control of the military! For the formation of rank and file councils!
For workers’ and peasants’ militias!

Socialism is the only way out

Global capitalism in the 21st century is in a crisis in which the forces of production are being destroyed so that capitalists can continue to profit. Marx long ago predicted that capitalism would ultimately dig its own grave by creating a working class that would overthrow the private owners to claim social ownership of the forces of production.

This is where we are today. Peasants, factory workers, women workers, youth, conscripts; the majority are being cast out of production. This is what Marx and Engels meant in the Communist Manifesto when they raised the slogan: “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”! Despite all those doomsayers who claim that socialism is dead, or those wheeler-dealers who claim that capitalism can be reformed by ‘democratic’ , ‘humane’ politicians, the system has them all in its grip. The producing classes cannot survive by placing any hopes in reforming the system. This can only lead to further social destruction, climactic disaster and fascist barbarism.

The only solution for the worlds’ workers is to expropriate the means of production from the private owners for our own use. When we are excluded from production, or forced into slave labor, we must occupy and put the means of production under our own control. Where workers have done this as in Argentina and Venezuela, they have proved that bosses are superfluous.

We are one class; the working class, and one fight; the fight for socialism

Standing between workers and socialism are all the enemies of their class. They are those who seek to contain and divert the workers struggle to expropriate the capitalists into compromises, deals, and sellouts to save the bosses skins. These are the false friends of workers – the union officials who are paid by the bosses state to prevent workers from running unions democratically; the political parties funded by the bosses state with false names like ‘labor’ , ‘socialist’, ‘worker’ or ‘communist’, that promise workers, land, jobs, health and education, but instead cut jobs, wages and benefits to guarantee bosses good profits.

Today the most dangerous class enemies of all the peasant, wage slaves, women, youth, and conscripts, who are struggling to take control of the means of production, distribution and exchange, are those false ‘socialists’ who tell the workers to put their faith in strong leaders who can bring about socialism from ‘above’; in particular, those in the World Social Forum who look to Castro, Chavez and even Lula, to solve their problems for them.

No! To defeat the class collaborationist World Social Forum we must build a new revolutionary communist international. The only guarantee of socialism is the independent, armed organisation of our One Class! Peasants, factory workers, women, and youth workers, united in workers councils everywhere; and our One Fight! Turn occupations all into expropriations as the basis of a socialist planned world economy!

Communist Worker Group (NZ) Member of the Leninist-Trotskyist Fraction

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 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