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

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Defeat Mapp’s ‘Slave Labour’ Bill

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Union Campaign

Mapp’s Bill is designed to remove workers rights in the first three months in any new job. It will open the gate to a more generalised attack on the unions and workers rights .Hone Harawira was right, it is a ‘slave labour’ Bill.The unions are geared up to get the Bill defeated in parliament. But defeating Mapp’s Bill in parliament is no guarantee that bigger and more severe attacks will not follow. Only an independent, democratic, and militant labour movement can put a stop to capital’s drive to make lobour pay for its crisis-ridden, rotten system.

Mapp’s Bill, AKA Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill

“This Bill will introduce a 90-day probation period for new employees in the Employment Relations Act 2000. New Zealand is one of only two OECD countries that does not have a probation period for new employees. The most common length of probation period in the OECD is three months.”

The National Party’s industrial relations shadow minister Wayne Mapp’s Bill passed its first reading on March 15. The combined support of National, ACT, United Future, New Zealand First and three members of the Maori Party saw the bill sent to select committee for further consideration.

Unlike the other three Maori Party MPs, Hone Harawira voted against the Bill. He called it a ‘slave labour’ Bill. Peter Sharples, Maori MP for Tamaki Makaurau, said he voted for the Bill to go to the Select Committee to hear the arguments for and against. He has since come out against the Bill. But there is no sign that Turia or Flavell have changed their minds. Turia is on record as saying that young Maori need this Bill to get into the job market.

Labour, the Greens, and the Progressives opposed the bill. Labour is opposed because it would tip the balance of power in the Employment Relations Act back in favour of the bosses. The ERA’s sponsor, then Labour Minister Margaret Wilson, is a longtime advocate of industrial ‘peace’ where both workers and employers are equal and the state acts as referee.

Sue Bradford Green Party spokesperson called it “mean-spirited, anti-worker legislation [which] has no place in a modern and innovative economy, what Dr Mapp and some other political parties supporting this bill fail to recognise is that it is already possible to have probation periods for new employees under the existing ERA (Employment Relations Act). Where a probationary period has been negotiated, it can be taken into account when looking at whether a dismissal is justified or not.”

Sue Bradford is being a bit naïve. Of course the employers are well aware of the current provisions for a probationary period. They want to get rid of it because it imposes certain restraints on them in hiring and firing. According to the CTU, “Currently case law requires an employer to do just three things for a probationary employee: tell the employee about their concerns, hear the employee’s point of view, and consider it in a fair manner.”

To give the bosses the right to hire and fire Mapp’s Bill proposes:

“The purpose of a probation period for new employees is to enable employers to take a chance with new employees, without facing the risk of expensive and protracted personal grievance procedures. It will enable people who have not had previous work experience to find their first job and make it easier for people re-entering the workforce. That will enable greater growth and productivity in the New Zealand economy.”

According to Don Brash, a 90 day no rights period will help people who are, “too young, too old or too brown” to get a job.

Brash’s statement is seen by the CTU as an admission that employers currently discriminate against these categories of workers. Of course! Youth and age by themselves are no indicator of employability. Nor is ‘being brown’ as the drop off in Maori unemployment from 19% in 1999 to around 9% today proves. But Maori unemployed are still around 20% of the unemployed yet only 10% of the workforce. And the Maori youth rate while down from 32% in 1999 is still over 20% (there are no recent official figure for Maori Youth Unemployment!). The explanation suggested by the Labour Department is that Maori tend work mainly in the more unskilled jobs in the export sector or more insecure service jobs.

Mapp’s Bill is in fact a ‘trojan horse’ to open the gate to further attacks on workers’ rights.

Tariana Turia may think that foregoing hard won rights is a worthwhile price to pay for young Maori to ‘prove themselves’. But this is a return to the 19th century frontier style industrial relations that dumps on the proud history of Maori workers struggles that fought racism to get jobs and took a leading role in the development of militant trades unions.

But more than that, it’s not just about exploiting unskilled and untrained workers. It forces all workers taking on a new job to work with no rights for three months.

Being able to take the boss to a civil court under the Human Rights Act! –on legal aid (Ha Ha!) or the ERA to get wages owed is hardly a right.

Stripped of all the bullshit, Mapp’s Bill is designed let the bosses hire relatively untrained and unskilled workers from the pool of reserve workers to do shit work when it’s available and then fire them when they like. They want more builders’ labourers, cleaners and delivery boys and girls, so along comes Mapp. Harawira is right, this is a ‘slave labour’ Bill.

As for the employers moaning about the cost of legal action to fire someone, the CTU say’s there is no evidence of many personal grievances being taken by employees in the first 90 days. But the CTU is being a bit precious here as it is not that bosses are unwilling to risk taking on “young, old and brown” workers in the first place, but that they want work them without rights and union coverage to extract the maximum profit.

The CTU also thinks that the Bill will make recruiting and keeping workers more difficult because it puts the first 3 months outside the ERA and its provisions for free mediation and dispute settlement. It says that the Bill would allow employers to shirk their duties to their workers. But it misses the point here, doing their ‘duty’ is not the bosses intention. They are not all converts to the ‘knowledge economy’ that empowers the CTU to act as labour pimps. They want the outright freedom to hire and fire. And they want a passive, compliant workforce that prepares workers to reject union membership and accept tough agreements after the 3 month period.

The reason that the CTU expects bosses to do their ‘duty’ is that CTU’s conception of the boss/worker relationship is a partnership that requires employers to do their job in encouraging and training workers, while workers do their job in increasing their productivity. This cosy collaboration allows the CTU union officials to act as the grease monkeys who keep the working class engine running. So while the CTU’s campaign against Mapp’s Bill makes some obvious good points, it is designed to try to bully, shame and cajole employers into taking on their role as responsible partners in this cosy setup. But class collaboration was never a good basis for the defence of workers rights, as the many millions of workers lives sacrificed over the centuries to keep the capitalist system going testify.

A militant campaign to smash the Mapp sack!

A serious defence of workers rights means using the ERA as a defence for as long as it is necessary to build up the industrial strength to do away with the legal framework and assert workers control over the economy. The fact that some bosses want to abolish the ERA starting with its limited protection of workers in what they call the ‘probationary’ period, means we need to defend it.

Therefore everyone needs to get behind the CTU campaign and lobby MPs to defeat the Bill. But when we lobby we should not beg. We should demand that these MPs vote against the Bill or be thrown out of parliament at the next election!

Most important, we cannot put any faith in parliament or in the CTU’s ability to protect workers. Parliament is the mouthpiece of the ruling class and its agents, the political parties of all colors, and the union bureaucracy, representing the interests of all those who have a stake in protecting and defending capitalism. It may be that Mapp’s Bill will not win a majority, but that is no reason for complacency. Mapp’s Bill is a trojan horse designed to open the gate to the destruction of the unions and the removal of all workers rights.

The ERA does not allow workers to go on strike to defeat this Bill. It limits the right to strike to periods of negotiating agreements and health and safety matters. This proves that the ERA is a ‘leg-iron’, like all labour law, that sets limits on workers struggles. Therefore, we have to start right now to rebuild the unions on the basis of a democratic and militant rank and file control of production. Only an organised working class can defeat all future attacks on our class, and go on to overthrow the rotten capitalist system and replace it with a planned, socialist society.

From Class Struggle 67 June/July 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

Union turf wars

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It is vital that workers, especially in low-paid casualised jobs, are recruited to unions where they have rank and file control and can unite to build a strong labour movement. When union officials conduct turf wars over union members, it is the workers that will lose out. The poaching of one is an injury to all. Workers need to take action against poaching and for unity!

Air NZ: Ground staff turf wars

Both the EPMU (Engineers Union) and SFWU (Service & Food Workers Union) have members on the ground at NZ airports. Negotiators from both unions began talks with Air NZ management in August – September last year (2004).

Rex Jones of the EU stitched up a deal with Air NZ management back in December last year. Part of this deal is that the EU have agreed to work with Air NZ management on splitting the deal into 3 separate agreements; airports, cargo and retail, etc. After Jones’ promises to management, the EU members were offered an agreement which included backpay (or a bonus). This deal excluded members of the SFWU.

The bureaucratic style of negotiation goes on behind the backs of union members. The EPMU negotiation team stitched up a deal without informing members about what conditions they would lose in the deal. Then the EPMU take the offer to the whole membership.

This style takes the power away from union members and plays up the role of union officials as ‘great leaders’. We say ‘All power to the members’. Members must be fully informed of the progress of negotiations throughout negotiations. This means regular meetings of the membership and the negotiation team and members on the negotiation team. We support the right of members to dismiss and replace non performing delegates or officials.

The SFWU were after at least as good a deal as the EPMU, but with no loss of conditions. They were frustrated by Air NZ management’s lack of negotiation. Air NZ would not offer them the same deal as the EPMU. So the SFWU took strike action. During that strike the EU members continued to work! A divided strike was much less effective at impacting on the bosses business.

ERA adjudication

The SFWU failed to get a deal with Air NZ and went to the Employment Relations Authority for adjudication. SFWU continued to try to get as good a deal as the EPMU, but Air NZ implied that the EPMU was more deserving. ANZ told the adjudicator that they gave the EPMU members a “bonus” (as backpay) because the EPMU was more willing to improve efficiency and productivity (for the bosses) and to make changes and split the contract (into business units).

Class Struggle condemns the actions of the EPMU; bureaucratic dealing, settling first and promoting their “brand” of union above other unions. By doing so the EPMU has undermined working class solidarity.

Turf wars at Casino

Another turf war is going on at the Skycity casino where the SFWU succeeded in unionising most of the workforce. Now Unite officials (supposedly a union for the low paid, unorganised and unemployed workers) have moved into actively recruiting at the casino.

Unite officials have poached SFWU members. A Unite leaflet directly compares fees with the SFWU and then provides a form to send to Skycity payroll, for joining Unite and quitting the SFWU. The West Auckland branch of Unite! condemns those Unite officials’ actions.

All unionists must strongly condemn these actions of Unite officials poaching at the Skycity site. We call for the resignation of the official(s) responsible. Unfortunately most union rules do not allow members to dump rotten officials. Workers need to reclaim control over their unions and change the rules to let workers dump rotten officials.


We have heard that the EPMU is having secret talks with other unions, with the aim of amalgamation. This is another way to recruit members through takeovers. We call on those unions in talks to take proposals back to their members, and for the members to vote on which union they wish to join.

Working class answers to turf wars

Ban poaching! Members must regain control of the unions so they can dump rotten union officials who refuse to work for the benefit of the working class as a whole, and elect delegates and officials who are accountable to and recallable by the membership.

This means fighting for democratic, militant unions that are capable of acting independently of the state and its labour law ‘leg-irons’ which are all designed to make unions work within the bosses’ laws.

To do this we recommend workers stay with their union, and put up a real fight for their demands and for working class solutions, within their union. Only after attempts to raise demands within their own union, have got nowhere, should workers consider dumping one union for another.

End turf wars and unite to fight the employers for better wages and conditions. When workers are divided and fighting each other within different unions, this allows the bosses to screw down wages and conditions by playing unions off against each other.

We call for maximum unity among workers:

· MUCAs (Multi-Union Collective Agreements).

· MECAs (Multi-Employer Collectives)

· All union members to vote on agreements.

· All up meetings – all union members meet to discus the progress of negotiations and offers.

· Open the books: show what the union owns and union officials’ salaries.

· Fighting funds that are used to support striking workers.

· Set wages of union staff at the average wage of workers.

· Allow unemployed workers to be members of the union at reduced rates. 

From Class Struggle 60 March-April 2005

Written by raved

January 11, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Victory to Iraq!

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On Sunday April 18 about 140 members of Auckland’s Arab community and a handful of their supporters marched to the US consulate. Organised at short notice and almost totally ignored by the media, the march was a powerful show of support for the armed insurrection shaking Iraq.

The demonstrators chanted slogans like ‘1,2,3,4 We don’t want your racist war!’, ‘ANZAC troops, out of Iraq!’, and ‘With our lives, with our blood we defend you, Iraq!’. CWG members on the march shouted slogans condemning the US repression of Iraq’s trade union movement, and called for the rebuilding of the Iraqi union movement and international working class solidarity with the resistance.

A group of young Palestinians delighted the march by improvising a song which paid tribute to the heroism of the defenders of Fallujah. A number of Islamist chants were aired, but when a CWG member raised an old Iraqi revolutionary chant at least a third of the crowd joined in, and others applauded.

Outside the US consulate a series of speakers emphasised the criminal nature of the US/UN occupation of Iraq, and the need to support the the Iraqi resistance to occupation. One Iraqi addressed the US government, saying ‘We are not responsible for the killing – get out of our country and we will stop killing you’.

Another Iraqi blasted Bush’s talk of democracy, saying ‘Freedom exists in Iraq only for Americans. Our country is being made safe only for Americans and Zionists’. A Palestinian speaker announced the news of the murder of Hamas leader Rantissi, and vowed that the intifada would continue until Israel was destroyed.

Bystanders were divided in their response to the demonstration. A handful were enraged, and shouted racist abuse and threats. Many, though, were very supportive. When the march passed a music store near the bottom of Queen Street a crowd of young people poured out of the store and applauded wildly. Dozens of motorists honked their support. A CWG member talked to a young American tourist who had spontaneously joined the march to show her opposition to Bush and solidarity with Iraq.

A disappointing feature of the demonstration was the absence of almost all of Auckland’s left-wing community. Apart from Students for Justice in Palestine, the CWG seemed to be the only left group represented. Several speakers emphasised the need for the Arab community to liaise better with the rest of Auckland’s anti-war movement, and to explain its cause better to the general public, and one speaker urged demonstrators to come on Auckland’s Mayday march.

It is certainly true that Sunday’s march could have been better advertised, and that the Arab community could make stronger links with the many Aucklanders who hate Bush and his imperialist war.

But the left and the labour movement also have some work to do, if they are to reach out to the community most affected by the War of Terror. In particular, the left and the union movement must learn from the militant anti-imperialism of last Sunday’s demonstration, and of the Iraqi resistance as a whole.

Auckland’s Arab community is connected by family and history to an occupation which is for most of the rest of us a matter of TV images and newspaper stories. For Auckland’s Arabs, the brutality of US imperialism is especially keenly felt, and the necessity of armed resistance to this imperialism is easily understood.

Last Sunday’s message of solidarity with armed resistance to US and NZ troops contrasts very sharply with the official line of this country’s mainstream peace movement and larger left-wing parties. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq last year, both the Alliance and the Green Party refused to support Iraqis’ right to defend their homeland against Bush’s armies.
Instead of backing the Iraqis, Green MPs like Keith Locke and peace movement ‘celebrities’ like Bishop Randerson used prime speaking slots at massive anti-war demonstrations to promote illusions that the UN and ‘international law’ could stop the war. When the war wasn’t stopped, disappointed demonstrators disappeared faster than Saddam’s WMDs. The active anti-war movement faded at the very moment the Iraqi resistance needed it most.

Twelve years of sanctions costing a million lives and a year of brutal UN-sanctioned occupation have made Iraqis somewhat sceptical about the charms of the UN. The Green Party, though, is still blindly calling for a UN ‘solution’ for Iraq. ‘Resistance’ is a word that is still absent from Comrade Locke’s vocabulary.

Our union movement has an even worse record than the Greens. Echoing Helen Clark, the national leadership of the Council of Trade Unions voted to oppose unilateral US war, but said nothing against a UN-sanctioned bloodbath. When the UN rubber stamped Bush’s conquest, Helen was happy to send troops, and the CTU was happy to keep quiet.

Some unions are going further, and seeking a slice of the War of Terror pie. The Engineers’ Union, for instance, has been lobbying John Howard’s government to build several frigates in Whangarei. (What’s next fellas – a tender for a New Zealand leg of the Star Wars system Howard is co-sponsoring with Bush?)

As rank and file trade unionists, we are disgusted and embarrassed by the failure of our movement to distance itself from the imperialist war machine and to show solidarity with the people fighting to stop that machine in its tracks.

Instead of acting as cogs in the War of Terror, our unions should begin a campaign of aid to the Iraqi workers’ organisations opposing the occupation of their country. In the 1930s, New Zealand unions sent money to the Spanish republicans fighting Franco and the Nazis, and some left-wing Kiwis travelled to Spain to join the International Brigade that took on the fascists on the battlefield.

Today, the Iraqi people are defying a colonial occupation every bit as dangerous as fascism. We need to support them by getting Kiwi troops out of their country, and by aiding their struggle for real liberation. Anything less would be a betrayal of the spirit of last Sunday’s demonstration. When we march with our Arab sisters and brothers this Mayday our slogans should be:

Victory to Iraq!
Defeat US/NZ Troops!
Build the Iraqi workers’ movement!

From Class Struggle 55 April-May 2004

Written by raved

January 6, 2010 at 7:45 pm


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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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From Class Struggle 49 March/April 2003

The following letter was written by comrade Justin to a Syd, a fellow activist in the National Distribution Union (NDU). It talks mainly about the work of the Anti-Imperialist Coalition (AIC) and the importance of organising workers against the imperialist war plans to attack Iraq. It criticises the current Council of Trade Unions (CTU) stand supporting the Labour government joining the UN-sponsored war against Iraq, and the NDU petition backing this position circulated on the February 15th mass anti-war marches. Justin points the way forward out of this gutless subservience to Labour Government policy by calling for rank and file workers to rally on May Day this year to strike against imperialist war.

Tena KoeBrother,

A bit of history of the Anti-Imperialist Coalition.

Our United Front organisation the Anti Imperialist Coalition has been in existence since shortly after Sept 11 2001, not too long after the Carter Holt Harvey Interion strike here in Manurewa. Quite consciously different from the rest of the anti-war movement, our orientation has been trade union and worker based with a heavy emphasis on the “Rank and File.” Whilst we have no formal membership structure, workers and individuals from all of the main unions including the NDU, PPTA, ASTE, SFWU, Rail and Maritime, FINSEC, AWU, AUS, University Students etc and the “Engineers,” have made valuable contributions and continue to do so.

It became obvious from the inaugural meeting that the AIC was not going to be a “Peacenik” organisation, but one dedicated to militant struggle with workers in the vanguard. To date, our tasks have included organising the militant wing of the anti-war movement on all demos, rallies and pickets. Dissemination of non-mainstream information and politically educational material is a big part of AIC’s work. We have regular monthly solidarity actions with the PHRC (Palestinian Human Rights Campaign) and hold forums with invited speakers on all topics affecting workers. A talk late last year after the Bali bombing by a lecturer in Indonesian from Auckland University gave a valuable insight into the prejudiced perceptions being pushed by the West against Moslems and its flow down effects on all indigenous struggles including here in Aotearoa.

Our engagements with trade unions have been central to much of our activity. AIC has sent delegations along to stop-work meetings of the Watersiders and Seafarers unions to name but a few.

During the general elections last year, I and another member made two trips down to the Kinleith Timber Mill in Tokoroa as part of a fact finding tour. OK, so a big part of it consisted of getting pissed at the “Trees Tavern” in Tokoroa, but I was able to gauge the extent of the mess created by the “Engineers” – by the leadership of the Engineers’ Union. One bloke I met was so hacked off with the decision to go with the Engineers back in “91,” that he quit and became a screw at Waikeria. Politically a bad move I would have thought. I met a couple of truckies from Putaruru with the National Distribution Union Transport sector, who were worried about their jobs as a result of the Kinleith lay-offs. They must have realised that I wasn’t intimidated by a pub full of “Engineers” because they didn’t hassle me once for wearing my “Woodies” hi-viz jacket. Imperialism did come up as a topic of conversation especially after they got to read some of our material and related it to the Carter Holt Harvey’s owners, International Paper.

Our second trip to Tokoroa coincided with election night. We spent some time at local MP and Minister of Defence Mark Burton’s campaign HQ. There, we got to meet more Kinleith Workers and yet more “Engineers” – it was a very right-wing atmosphere with the local Chairman telling me that the Alliance were nuts for not backing the US War of Terrorism.

AIC/CWG’s most ambitious venture to date has been to send one of its members to Argentina to look at the revolution taking place there. We learned that the Argy Workers after being crapped on for so long took it upon themselves to occupy hundreds of factories left by their bosses. Some have even started exporting. Having turned their backs on all mainstream political parties and traditional unions especially their bureaucrats, they have organised themselves into site committees working closely with neighbourhood committees, who in turn have formed into Popular Assemblies. Many problems lie ahead for them, but they have resolved to oppose all attempts by the US and the UN to impose their rule through the World Bank, the IMF and the military. Politically they are light years ahead of us, but they point in the direction we should be headed in.

Because of AIC’s Anti-Imperialist Kaupapa, we realise that it is the Workers and their organisations who must lead the fight. So far, and it’s still early days, workers, and I include AIC, have had to tail after the: Peaceniks, Greenies, Churchies and anyone with an axe to grind. As you probably noticed on the march, Maori representation is almost non-existent. Each time that I’ve driven to an anti-war or political action, I’ve had to drive past sports fields crowded with our people indulging in organised nothingness designed by the ruling class. Don’t get me wrong, I love my rugby, but I’ve learned that my priorities aren’t what they used to be. It is important that we as Maori workers redirect that wasted energy toward the struggle. So far, the only ones happy with that status quo, are the “Bosses”, because a Maori with a rugby ball is not likely to be a “staunch politico.”AIC has organised public speaking engagements at Otara Flea Market in the past and similar venues with the idea of getting our people on board. Much interest has been shown, though this has not been greatly manifest by numbers on marches and so forth.

The so-called anti-war NDU Petition

The so called anti-war petition on Iraq being circulated by the National Distribution Union has come in for a considerable amount of flak due to its inference that war can be averted by working through the UN. The first of the six points outlined in the petition clearly states the NDU’s support for the Govt’s “consideration for military assistance” (support for war in any other lingo) against Iraq as long as it is mandated by the UN within international law. In effect the union would support the slaughter of Iraqi “workers” and their families. “International Workers Solidarity” and “Workers of the World Unite,” would become empty and meaningless. Even peace groups with pro-UN views in the past are beginning to recognise the Imperialist role of the UN and reversing their positions accordingly.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but support for Phil Goff by the NDU totally misrepresents the position taken by the anti-war movement since S11. Not only has he been burned in effigy and had reams of uncomplimentary stuff written about him, but he has gone on record as calling anti-war Green MP Keith Locke, “despicable” for opposing the US war. When I got my copy of the NDU petition in the mail the other day, I couldn’t believe it. It became the subject of an AIC meeting before the big demo and was roundly condemned. When my turn came to speak on behalf of AIC during the open mike session after the demo, I tore the bloody thing up. Unfortunately by that stage you blokes had gone. Promoting Labour Govt. foreign policy is not the job of the union.

Days later at a meeting of the Auckland CTU, a vote was taken to reject war even with UN backing, leaving the authors of the petition with egg on their faces. Stealing a march on their “Blue Collar” comrades last year, the PPTA and ASTE voted against war, UN or no UN. Again like “Springbok 81”, it is education sector unions taking the lead.

When the NDU calls on all workers to involve themselves in all anti-war activity, it should be saying that we lead them rather than become just another participant.

Without going into the finer details of the remaining points of the petition, I’d just like to say that the US has succeeded in one respect. It has focused “all” attention onto “Terrorism” and “Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).” They have set the agenda by forcing the politically naive including the trade unions (see the Petition) to construct opinions and actions that presuppose that they are telling us the truth. Daily, they are exposed as liars trying to feed and sow paranoia that is only given legitimacy because many people put serious limits on the degree to which they would question what is going on. So far, like the mainstream mass media, the trade union movement has failed to publicly say that we are witnessing the biggest “red herring” deception in history. The anti-war movement has consistently spelled out “No war for oil” and yet the trade unions stick to the WMD and Terrorism agenda of the imperialists. We know that the war is about more than just oil. Iraq is being made an example of as a warning to any nation that dares to defy the will of the US. In other words, they shit on “Tino Rangatiratanga.” All union statements on the next stage of the US war (since we have already seen the first 12 years of it), must define clearly and loudly the real intentions of the US without kowtowing to the crap that they have been feeding us all this time. At the end of the day, the only thing standing in the way of a US Imperialist victory is the combined force of the “international working class” which is are imperialism’s arch enemy.

Let’s look briefly at the peace-loving UN.

First of all, the UN represents Govts including dictatorships and monarchies none of which are friendly to workers. It was the UN that legitimised the forced removal of Palestinian “Tangata Whenua” from their ancestral lands by recognising the racist state of Israel in 1948. A raupatu that exists to this very day. The UN forced the separation of Korea into North and South in 1950, culminating in the US-forced crisis that has continued to the brink of a US nuclear attack. The UN stepped aside in Lebanon in 1982, while the Israelis committed mass slaughter with US weaponry. In East Timor, the UN did nothing to avert the genocide being committed by Indonesian soldiers trained by the Yanks, Brits, Aussies and Kiwis over a 35-year period. Only after anti-worker US stooge Suharto was dumped from power in ‘98, did the UN take the step to “stage” a rescue. Their bulwark against the threat of a worker-led uprising was no longer in power.The Kiwi and Aussie military who helped bring Suharto to power in 1965 merely became “Blue Berets” and phoney “Peace Keepers.”

To date however, the UN’s prize achievement has been the more than 1 million Iraqis who have died directly as a result of UN imposed sanctions. The weak-kneed UN General Assembly (which some misguided Social-Democrats see as a saviour) represents the overwhelming majority of Govts who have never effected any change through mass protest against the indulgences of the UN Security Council because they are kept in place by the purse strings of the imperialist US.

Workers must seek redress and solutions through their own organisations and international affiliations which account for far more people than the discredited and corrupt UN can ever hope to muster. After all, that’s what we are here for. We must force the issue of characterising the US leaders and their lackeys as international war criminals by supplying the overwhelming evidence that their actions amount to incitement to commit “massive” violence and violate every human rights protocol in existence. Their “mugs” should be plastered on international bulletin boards as the world’s “Most Wanted.” This has to be one of the key demands of all union anti-war activity. Screw the UN, let’s talk about “workers justice.” The cautious and conservative approach of the trade unions has served to undermine all efforts by the progressive Workers movement to combat the forces that we face. Like “Marae Justice” which is belittled by the mainstream, we must push these demands to the forefront of everything we do and nothing less.

Let’s join forces to organise a militant anti-war May Day

May Day will soon be upon us and with the war clouds gathering, we have the opportunity to make it like no other before it. AIC is promoting the idea of holding a May Day Saturday rally in South Auckland culminating in a festival of music with a strong anti-war theme. Of course union input together with the chance for recruitment would be paramount. If anything is going to get our Rangatahi and workers involved, it is going to be the chance to showcase their talents politically. I’m sure Jo and Roopu Kotuku would love to perform “Maa Te Reo” which has a social message to our people on stage. Think about it. It would be a coup for the NDU. The latest word I hear is that there are many young people who are starting to express their feelings about the US-led war in music etc. Over the years, we have seen political Kapa Haka and powerful messages coming from our Rangatahi with their Reggae, Hip hop, R&B and Rap. Its time to “Brown” this movement. Let’s give them a go. Let’s raise this in the NDU Maori Runanga. If any union structure is going to have a significant influence, it is going to be the Runanga.

Anti-worker laws posing as anti-terror laws

On a related subject, my home Marae of Nga Tai Erua is putting in a submission opposing the South Auckland Prison proposal at Meremere not because of Waahi Tapu or Taniwha, but because of the potential of union members or workers taking political industrial action against the state in the event of war and being incarcerated en mass. The Govt has threatened to invoke the Terrorism Suppression Act if Workers threaten a general strike or something similar that would disrupt economic infrastructure. Such a scenario already exists in the US, where purpose-built facilities are under construction. In Britain at the moment, the Fire Fighters union has threatened a general strike if Blair goes into Iraq. Blair has consequently threatened to brand them “Terrorists” and deal with them accordingly. In Aotearoa/NZ, no union has considered such a proposal in relation to Prison submissions. This is an expression of the extent to which AIC politics has had an effect.

AIC’s latest initiative is the formation of a new UF called DAWA (Direct Anti-War Action) which was created on Wed 19th Feb at the Auckland Trades Hall. This is where we hold our regular meetings every Wednesday night 7.30pm. At the meeting there were members from GPJA (Global Peace and Justice Auckland) who organised the big demo and many unions especially the Seafarers and it was decided that direct action was necessary to deal with the looming crisis. This could include strikes, civil disobedience and directly interrupting the political and military affairs currently being conducted by both NZ and the US on NZ soil. DAWAs first action was a protest outside Whenuapai Airbase Sun 30th at 12.00 noon.

So to conclude brother, I’d just like to say that the “X” factor necessary to give some “Kaha” to our struggle is for the “Leadership” to be taken by Maori workers with the Runanga being the starting point. If anything, it is the Runanga that has been the single most progressive element within our union or any union for that matter for a very long time, thanks to your leadership. It was the Runanga that stepped outside of the traditional economism of trade unions and took on the Steven Wallace issue, a courageous and political move that has set a precedent for all other unions and workers organisations.

Nuff said. Kia Kaha Brother. Kia ora koe ano Syd.


Written by raved

January 3, 2009 at 9:49 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


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Almost one year after the killing of 23 year old Maori man Steven Wallace by an armed policeman in Waitara on April 30, 2000, we are no nearer to an explanation of why the life of a young man armed only with a baseball bat was needlessly cut short by at least four bullets. An Official Police Inquiry followed by a Police Complaints Authority review both found no fault on the part of the police in the killing. The Wallace family independent inquiry has come to nothing. It is time to demand a full, independent public inquiry to get to the truth behind the killing. Class Struggle supports a petition calling for such an inquiry as the first step to getting justice for Steven Wallace.


The police cover up of the killing of Steven Wallace could be called a grave miscarriage of justice if it were not normal for the state forces to evade justice. That is bad enough. What is worse is the victimisation of members of the Wallace family. False accusations that supporters of the Wallace family have harassed eyewitnesses to the shooting have not been followed up by police charges. Such accusations show that there is a red neck reactionary element in Waitara willing to back the police even if the price is racial division.

Back in 1981 there were similar accusations hurled at anti-Springbok Tour activists by pro-tour supporters whose claims were also unsubstantiated. Like all reaction, its ultimate aim is to increase the presence of police to protect property and to keep a check on those who dare to challenge the rule of law.

Four and a half months after the shooting of her son be Keith Abbott, while in a state of despair, Raewyn Wallace and her daughter Kelly were arrested allegedly for criminal harassment of Abbott’s wife. This charge carries a maximum of 2 years jail plus a fine. But even this charge after being taken to court has a question mark hanging over it. The credibility of the charge has yet to be established so it has been remanded to a later date. Stalling for time seems to be the only avenue left to the police on this issue

There was no compassion shown toward the mother and sister of the victim who were immediately thrown in jail in New Plymouth. The police would have preferred Wellington to remove the Wallaces from the scene (after the example of Te Whiti?)

Yet another flimsy charge of assault against Raewyn Wallace was brought by a woman police officer whose arm got caught in a car window as it was being wound up. This was used as a clumsy ploy to try to bargain with the Wallaces in the event that they brought a complaint against the police. According to barrister, Gary Gotlieb (NZHerald 13-5-00) it is police practice to “play hardball” with the accused by trumping up extra charges, only to have them withdrawn later provided a complaint was withdrawn.

A curfew then placed on the Wallace women was open-ended and was to last for many months. The sequel to the curfew was the arrest of James Wallace, Steven’s dad, two weeks after the arrest of his wife and daughter. Because the curfew meant that they could not drive him home from the local pub, five months after the shooting of Steven, James was arrested for excess alcohol and resisting arrest after trying to drive himself home. He also was thrown in the slammer.

James couldn’t even grieve in peace for his son without being tormented by the very police responsible for Steven’s death. Being sorry for his actions and admitting having made a mistake, James at least showed remorse and compassion. But he never got that in return. He was sentenced to a spell of periodic detention on January 25.

The victimisation of the Wallace family by the local police especially in the early months following the shooting, included continuous surveillance patrols passing the Wallace home, a show of force to intimidate and demoralise the family. More recently, the patrols have become less frequent only because the police believe that there is no longer a threat to their authority. Continued harassment of the Wallace family would also have been bad PR even for the pro-Police supporters in Waitara.

The state of unease that existed since the shooting in the township, culminated in the vandalised desecration of Steven’s memorial that stood on the place where he was shot. On Wednesday 23 March some time during the night, the memorial was removed. Speculation as to who was responsible would point the finger at local business interests as prime suspects, because the presence of the memorial has been seen as negative for business.

It was a constant reminded that their commercial property was worth more than the life of Steven Wallace. After all his only crime on the night he was shot was to break the windows of a number of business premises along with those of the police station. The business interests of Waitara have refused to pay any price for this killing. That payment continues to be heaped onto the heads of the Wallace family who have had to endure insult and injury beyond the comprehension of ordinary people.


Days after the shooting and the beginning of the Official Police Inquiry, the family felt compelled to begin their own independent inquiry headed by John Rowan QC. Under-funded and resourced they were certain that the outcome of the Police Inquiry would clear the officer who shot Steven of any criminal liability and so it was necessary to establish, free of constraints of police bias, a case for an eventual prosecution of the police but more especially Keith Abbott.

The Wallace Family Organising Committee was set up geared towards raising funds for the Inquiry. But it has been difficult coming to terms with the huge cost of this inquiry. By the end of 2000 the cost in lawyers fees had hit a staggering $100,000. No amount of hangis and raffles are able to keep pace with such costs.

At present other measures are being looked into to meet costs. Early approaches to local iwi authorities and local labour MP Harry Duynhoeven who has an office in Waitara have fallen on deaf ears. Known for his right-wing views within the Labour caucus, it was not expected that Duynhoeven would be of much help or even sympathetic.

Barely a month after the Official Police Inquiry began the final report was submitted by Detective Inspector Brian Pearce who headed the Inquiry. An extremely speedy process one might think given the enormity of the subject, but from the police point of view, one that was necessary.

To understand this process, it is necessary to understand the role of the Police Complaints Authority. On the termination of the Official Police Inquiry, it is the role of the PCA to conduct a review of that Inquiry. All matters subject to that review are deemed secret and inadmissible in a court of law according to the PCA Act 1988. This means basically that none of its findings can be scrutinised by the general public under the Official Information Act.

The claim by the president of the Criminal Bar Association Richard Earwaker, that PCA head judge Neville Jaine is “independent” is an interesting one. First of all, it is recorded that judge Jaine defends the use of police officers in his investigation they have a “greater feel for what is going on in their organisation”. With such an attitude it is impossible to accept that any “independence” exists. Even if non-police investigators were used, there is no way that the PCA is ‘independent’ as its record shows.

What this meant in practice for the for the Wallace Family inquiry, was the withholding of information by the police who could claim that such information was now subject to the secrecy of the PCA Act. So nine months after the Official Police inquiry ended, the Wallace Family inquiry has been left going around in circles at enormous financial and emotional cost.


Independence should mean that an inquiry is conducted by a body that has no official connection to the judiciary, law enforcement, or government funded authorities. The terms of reference should not be defined by the state or confined to a narrow set of conditions whose context has to be seen as part of a much wider picture (see our article on ‘ The Police Killing of Steven Wallace’ in Class Struggle #33 June/July, 2000).

The issue of funding by the Government for such a body is another matter completely. Just as legal aid is justified to enable everybody regardless of income to a defence in the justice system, state funding of an independent inquiry is also a basic right. What is more, government funding is met out of taxation which has its origins in the surplus value of workers’ unpaid labour. Where workers are killed by the state, the very least we can demand is that the state pays for an independent inquiry into the killing.

In the current political climate, the only practicable means of public seeking funding for an independent inquiry is by sheer numbers through a public petition to parliament. The focus of such a petition should be the setting up of a body of inquiry aimed at replacing the current PCA whose contribution to justice has been a bloody joke. The case of Steven Wallace would be its first assignment, but by no means its last.

Future families of victims of police violence should not have to endure petitioning every time there is a killing. The Wallace family has at least taken the huge step by deciding on a petition to seek justice for Steven. All workers should support their action. At every occasion we should stress that this inquiry needs to be truly independent of the state.

Role of Unions

As a member of the Freezing Workers’ Union for nearly 40 years, James Wallace like most of his fellow union workmates was to receive the butt end of the massive closure of Waitara Freezing Works. Around the same time, Raewyn Wallace as a member of the Textile Workers’ Union was to lose her job at Swanndri when that worksite was closed down.

` In both instances a union strategy of holding off militant action to save jobs backfired with the closures. The potential to mobilise the large workforce in the area to fight for workers’ control to keep industry and jobs in the area was lost. What followed instead in Waitara was a demoralisation that is an indictment of the union movement. Half the workforce is unemployed.

As we said in our original article on Steven’s killing (CS #33), you cannot isolate his death from the general economic depression that has visited the areas since the closure of these major employers. In our view this would be a major focus of an independent inquiry.

With the tragedy of Steven Wallace’s death, there has emerged the opportunity for the union movement to redeem itself by throwing off the shackles of “economism” and supporting an open political campaign to petition for an independent inquiry. Union members can distribute and get fellow workers to sign the petition.

Featuring that campaign in newsletters and newspapers would show that the unions have a commitment to supporting workers who have become unemployed, but who remain workers all the same. In terms of taking a lead on the issue, the only recognisable group that has the means and connections both nationally and internationally is the union movement.

Calls by Maori nationalist groups to seek a separate course of action would hinder and dilute a more effective campaign built around the unions. What should happen is a coordination of both groupings for a common end.

  • Raise the Steven Wallace campaign at every worksite, every union meeting and conference. Sign the Petition!
  • For an Independent Public Inquiry!
  • An end to the Police Complaints Authority.

Iwi advisory Boards

Within days of Steven’s death, a special hui was played out in Rotorua. Invited guests included the PM Helen Clark, Acting Police Commissioner Rob Robinson and Race Relations Conciliator Rajan Prasad.

The purpose of the hui was to thrash out strategies to reduce high offending among Maori. 12 iwi signed a memorandum of understanding with the police to this effect. What has resulted, has been the establishment of ‘Iwi Advisory Boards’ charged with “giving Maori a say on strategic policy initiatives and frontline policing’ (NZ Herald 20-5-00).

What this amounts to is little more than an increase in the recruitment of Maori police officers just like Keith Abbott. A situation calculated to set Maori on collision course with fellow Maori. Right now Maori police escorts are protecting scabs on the wharves and other sites from Maori workers who stand to lose their jobs. A situation of divide and rule so often seen before as in the 1951 lockout when young Maori were drafted as scabs.

This situation is going to get worse as Maori workers come under increasing pressure for jobs, and as the gaps in income and education continue to grow. There will be hundreds of young Maori Steven Wallace’s who reach they limit and rage against the machine only to find themselves up against armed police who to date have got away with their killing of Steven Wallace.

It is up to Maori workers to take a stand to stop their iwi leadership getting sucked into these divide-and-rule policies and to take the lead in the unions to build a movement for Justice for Steven Wallace.

Sign the Justice for Steven Petition!

Get your workmates to sign also!

From Class Struggle, No 38 April-May 2001

Written by raved

August 27, 2007 at 10:07 pm


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The passing of Jock Barnes earlier this year marks another milestone in the march of the working class in NZ-Aotearoa. Barnes was the undisputed leader of the most militant labour struggle in the post-war period, the famous waterfront lockout of 1951. It was this lockout that succeeded in dividing and smashing the militant leading echelons of the labour movement setting it back for another generation. Barnes tells his story in his Memoirs: Never a White Flag.

Barnes role as a militant unionist in the ‘51 Lockout was exemplary. He fought to the bitter end, rallying his troops against insuperable odds. Many have condemned him for taking the unions into a fight that they couldn’t win. That is rubbish. Unions can never win decisive battles against the bosses state with its police force and army. But they can advance the cause of the working class and defend rights and freedoms that make it more difficult for the bosses to impose their will on workers. More than that they can prepare the ground for more decisive victories of the working class. Not to have fought would have been to hand a victory to the bosses.

The reality was that Barnes did not pick the fight or the battle ground. The second world war was already a major defeat for workers who were subject to wartime repression and the defeats of revolutions in Europe and IndoChina at the hands of the Soviet Union and the imperialists. But the victory of US and British imperialism over Germany and Japan depended on the support of the Soviet Union, and the price the West paid was the expansion of the SU into Eastern Europe, and the Chinese and IndoChinese revolutions. Workers in the West including NZ rallied to win back some lost ground out of the post-war boom. It was time for the Western imperialists to show who really was boss.

At Fulton in 1948 Churchill pronounced that a cold war against communism had begun. Foster Dulles took this message to the Western allies, and a newly elected National government decided to provoke a battle with the labour movement to defeat the ‘enemy within’ as well as the foreign enemy – communism. The bosses enlisted the support of the rightwing of the labour movement under Patrick Walsh and in 1950, Walsh forced the wharfies and its allies to walk out and to form the Trade Union Congress.

A series of bitter skirmishes with the shipping companies followed. In rejecting a pitiful wage increase handed down by the Arbitration Court the union voted unanimously for an overtime ban. The bosses replied with dismissals and suspensions and the ‘lockout’ had begun. The union was then deregistered by the Court. The best accounts of the lockout are Dick Scott’s book “151 days” which came out shortly after the dispute, and Jock Barnes own book which came out in 1998. In the 151 days of the lockout, the bosses not only brought in the army to run the wharfs, they used the emergency regulations to prevent the unions from organising, publicising or meeting. Many workers (and come wives) were physically bashed up by the police and locked up.

Despite these efforts by the state and the government (the Labour Opposition infamously declared itself to be “neither for nor against” the union), mass support grew, other unions backed the wharfies and for a period the possibility of bringing down the National government was on. Barnes had this as his objective revealing his limited syndicalist perspective. He genuinely seems to have thought that had the Labour party not been stuffed with “timeservers” and “renegades” a change of government was possible. This was Barnes fatal flaw. For all his militancy, it went nowhere if it was aimed at changing a bourgeois government. When Labour refused to back the wharfies, defeat for Barnes was inevitable.

Could things have been different? Those who say that Barnes should have compromised to save the union, clearly see the union as no more than troops rallying behind a future Labour government. This would have been a sellout of workers interests. Barnes could not have done differently because the union movement was the creation of backward, semi-rural capitalist colony. What Barnes did was to take up the challenge to stand up and fight to spur the labour movement to attempt to outgrow this backward environment. It was not his fault that the wharfies and their allies could not jump over these objective conditions. For that to have been possible a strong communist leadership was necessary.

At the time the so-called ‘communists’ in NZ were Stalinist ratbags. They had zigged and zagged with Stalin into the popular front before and during the war. There were not real revolutionaries. That in itself was the result of the divisions in the labour movement caused by economic protection and insulation. After the defeats of the Red Federation in 1913 and the onset of the jingoistic Great War, many workers no longer believed in the need for independent working class politics. Instead they looked to Labour Governments and state welfare as a guarantee of their class interests. They were easily bought off by the post war boom, full employment and the promise of prosperity. The best we had was Barnes and the militant syndicalist tradition. And that’s the outlook that determined the goals and methods of the struggle.

The death of Jock Barnes and publication of his Memoirs remind us once again of one of the most important labour struggles in New Zealand’s history. The lessons of this struggle have to be learned afresh in the period ahead so that this time workers in NZ do not limit themselves to militant syndicalism but build a strong revolutionary party and go all the way to socialism.

From Class Struggle No 34 August-September 2000

Written by raved

August 27, 2007 at 8:59 pm


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If recent comments by NDU (National Distribution Union) Secretary Mike Jackson regarding police and immigration raids on work sites employing ‘illegal’ Asian workers are anything to go by, then it is time to root out such racist and nationalist flag waving attitudes that serve to reinforce chauvinist divisions through the working class.

Former Socialist Unity Party member Jackson was recently quoted as saying that “illegal immigration is a problem for NZ industry in that it drags wages and conditions down, making it harder to develop skills which end up going across the ditch (Tasman Sea)”. Such sentiments are not new. The fear of loss of jobs and conditions to ‘foreign workers’ has become a mantra trotted out by the right wing and phony left of the union movement.

The phony is left represented partly by the neo-Stalinist S.P.A. (Socialist Party of Aotearoa) whose President and second in command are NDU President Bill Andersen and Mike Jackson respectively. As adherents of the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ (see box below) it is hardly surprising that the non-internationalist position taken by such leaders is to the fore on the illegal immigration question.

Labour parties by their very nature try to con workers into believing that the bosses’ state can protect their jobs. The labour bureaucrats have taken a protectionist line in guarding the local conditions of workers not as a benevolent measure in the workers’ interests but as a means of putting the lid on any attempt by workers to rise up in the event of crises affecting their work conditions.

This is done first by ensuring that all key union positions are occupied by social democratically minded or phony left leaders. Their only interest is to guard their bureaucratically controlled high perches where they stand as intermediaries between bosses and workers. This union bureaucracy was called the labour lieutenants of capital by Trotsky because they control the workers as “troops” for the bosses.

The other measure which is being called for by the top union leaderships is the reintroduction of trade tariffs which amount to nothing more than a subsidy (profit top up) that goes into the bosses’ pockets and not the workers. More importantly tariffs act as barriers that stand between the workers internationally and can escalate into wars were workers are sent to fight workers to defend their bosses profits.

Rare international solidarity actions such as the MUA (Maritime Union of Australia) ban on handling military supplies to Indonesia over East Timor and the US Longshore Union support of the MUA over the struggle against scab labour on Australian wharves, are exceptions. But they were still limited by their bureaucratic leadership who continue the national chauvinism that stifles true internationalism.

‘Socialism in One Country’.

The defunct and discredited Stalinist concept of ‘socialism in one country’ bears responsibility for a large part of the current union attitude on illegal immigration. It recognises that imperialism holds predominance in the world today as it did in the days when Stalin dreamed up the whole idea after the failure of the revolution in Germany in 1923. By cutting deals with the imperialists who threatened to invade the Soviet Union, Stalin promised that socialism would not spread beyond its borders. In order to demonstrate this and appease the imperialists, he systematically eliminated all communist opposition including most of the Bolshevik central committee. Any attempt outside of the Soviet Union to organise workers was crushed. Marxist internationalism was replaced by flag waving nationalism placed under a workers banner to sell the illusion to workers that they had strength against imperialism. Many in key positions in unions today still hold to this conservative idea, particularly in the NDU and AWU (Amalgamated Workers Union) where Stalinists and their social democratic lackeys still hold sway.

A recent internal memo distributed by the Amalgamated Workers’ Union dated March 2000 continues the nationalist line. It states “Remember every illegal immigrant who takes a job is prohibiting somebody you know from working…We must continue to pursue this matter in the interests of NZ workers.” The AWU’s total defence of NZ workers hinges entirely on the 1987 Immigration Act which states that employers who knowingly employ illegal workers shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding NZ$2,000.

A paltry sum says the AWU. In fact the only thing paltry is its bureaucratic credibility when it fails to realise that by subordinating the unions struggle to a statute of bourgeois law it removes any pretence of being in charge of workers’ interests. The AWU bureaucrats rely upon the bosses’ state to defend “our” jobs from illegal aliens.

But to rely on the bosses to protect jobs puts one in the camp of the class enemy. To polarise workers around nationalism only serves to lend comfort to racists and bigots whose attacks on ‘legal’ immigrants have been on the increase in recent years. Fuelled by populist politicians like Peters and Prebble and the ratings driven tabloid media, the union bureaucrats have dragged themselves and the movement into the invidious position of being bedfellows with these low life reactionaries. The chauvinist defence of jobs and wages against foreign workers which relies on alliances with national bosses ultimately leads to wars were workers are sent to kill other workers in the interests of their bosses.

Without an international perspective and without support of the so-called ‘illegals’, the chance is lost for building sympathy and solidarity with foreign workers who are now all in the same global economy being exploited by the same multinational bosses. Solidarity with ‘illegal’ Asian workers in NZ could forge important links with the Asian masses are engaged in major struggles such as in China, Korea and Indonesia.

Bosses not workers cause low wages.

On the question of ‘illegals’ taking jobs and lowering wages and conditions, the bureaucratic line needs to be studied more closely. It turns out that it is not ‘illegal’ immigrants forcing down wages, but the failure of workers to join forces to stop the boss paying low wages that is the problem. Lets take the example of the market garden workers.

A former market garden worker recalls 20 years ago while working for one of the biggest vegetable growers in the Pukekohe region of South Auckland, wages and conditions were so low that most of the garden workers could not afford to pay even the minimum market rent for housing and so were forced to stay in company owned accommodation units on the garden work sites.

These dwellings were very often poorly maintained by the bosses whose only interest was to have a cheap workforce immediately on hand at short notice. At the time, with the exception of the boss and managerial staff, the vast majority of workers were Maori, but for the sake of argument, local. Their poor wages and conditions could hardly be blamed on ‘illegal’ immigrants. Poor wages and conditions have always existed in certain work sectors and always at the bottom end.

To fill the jobs at the bottom end bosses have historically had to rely on migrant workers who form a ‘reserve army of labour’ who are tapped into when needed and thrown on the scrap heap when surplus to requirements. 50 years ago it was Maori moving into the cities. 40 years ago it was Pacific Islanders looking for work. 20 years ago Maori working in the market gardens began to be replaced by seasonal and ‘illegal’ migrant workers. Today bosses are using ‘illegal’ migrants in the clothing and building industries because they are able to get away with paying low wages and bad conditions.

By employing workers from ‘third world’ or underdeveloped countries who do not meet the entry work requirements, bosses are able to use threats such as withholding passports to force them to work for low pay and substandard work and safety conditions. ‘Illegal’ workers are almost slaves as they have no normal rights as citizens. They are driven out of desperation to live and work under such conditions and cannot be the cause of any threat to NZ jobs, wages and conditions.

The AMU bureaucrats are right on one thing. A NZ$2000 fine is paltry compared with the large profit margins being made employing migrant workers. The bosses couldn’t care less about ‘illegal’ workers. Laws against foreign workers were enacted in the past by the bosses as part of deal with the unions where the bosses got industrial peace in return for keeping foreign workers out. This was the “White NZ” immigration policy that largely restricted official migration to skilled British workers.

Both unions and governments turned a blind eye to illegal migrants from the Pacific after World War 2 when jobs were plentiful, but when unemployment hit in the 1970’s both turned on these same migrants and labeled them ‘overstayers’. In other words the bourgeois state is forced to act on the issue of illegal migrants on pressure from the unions engineered by the union bureaucrats who play on workers fears that their jobs are under threat.

The situation got much worse under the ECA (Employment Contracts Act) of 1991 which had a huge impact on union membership driving it down to around 20% of the workforce. This has prompted a large part of what motivates the union bureaucrats drive against ‘illegals’. In order to show that it is fighting for the rights of local workers, it is running a campaign internally to encourage its members to act as eyes and ears against ‘illegals’, in the hope that the results would impress workers who are not members of unions to join up.

Work sites have been ‘targeted’ by unions who have called on their members to act as police spies reporting to immigration and police resulting in raids that have led to mass arrest of the ‘illegal’ workers, victims of the bosses. When occasionally the bosses are prosecuted this does not stop the practice. By using unionists in this way the bureaucrats are pitting local workers against foreign workers (‘illegals’) in support of the very state forces that have been, and will be again, used to crush workers struggles at home. This cynical attitude of the bureaucrats makes a mockery of the international workers slogan – “Workers of all countries unite!”

Because of its diminished support base, the union bureaucracy seeks to use its crude and underhand drive against ‘illegals’ to consolidate its position of privilege as the ‘labour lieutenants’ of the bosses by sacrificing the integrity of the workers’ movement. The rank and file must be made aware that what is being done in their name serves only to destroy them in the end. The NDU call last year to wage war on illegal workplaces in defence of ‘legitimate’ jobs in ‘legitimate companies’ backs the call that it supports an ‘illegitimate’ system.

This is part of the CTU “good boss/Bad boss” syndrome. But in reality the ‘sweatshop’ label being applied to the so-called illegal work places, should also be applied to the so-called ‘legitimate’ work places as local workers are forced to work longer hours for less pay by both NZ and foreign-owned companies. So while the bureaucrats set about looking for new definitions of legal and illegal workplaces, it is time for the rank and file to rise up and take their rightful place at the head of the workers’ struggle against the whole rotten system.

Workers answer to exploitation is international solidarity

At the dawn of a new century the rank and file must be made aware of the importance of their place in the international struggle in order to appreciate the need to support workers who have been labelled ‘illegal’ by the state and the union bureaucracy. Workers must debate among themselves the need to organise themselves into rank and file structures based on the principles of democracy and international solidarity.

This means that among the rank and file, the most lowly skilled worker has as much say during a debate or argument about union policy as the more highly skilled. This is on the clear understanding that the democratic decision arrived at on the basis of an informed vote must be accepted totally by all to ensure that the union acts as one to implement its policy.

The most fundamental groundwork of these structures has to take place on the worksite itself. Workers must organise to form a union were these do not exist and elect delegates who represent them and are held accountable to them. The delegates should be the best unionists with the ability to do the job well.

As communists we fight to get elected as delegates standing on a programme that links the unions to the struggle for socialism. This means that the site delegate must take responsibility to inform workers of the need for a revolutionary angle on all matters affecting workers’ conditions, especially the world situation that for most workers don’t appear to play any part in their lives. By so doing, this raises the level of their international understanding, thus better preparing them for the task of international solidarity action in the event that should crises arise anywhere both here and abroad, the response would be immediate and automatic.

So while the delegate acts to represent the views of the rank and file, the delegate should also be prepared to act as a leader until the rank and file becomes more politically aware and eventually class conscious. The rank and file will then become actively part of the wider revolutionary movement. That is why Trotsky called the trades unions “schools for revolution”.

In the meantime, the site delegate has the valuable task of making links with his or her counterpart in other worksites fighting for the rebuilding of the unions based on the principles of rank and file democracy and international solidarity. It is important to state that the rank and file movement is representative of ‘all’ workers irrespective of the industrial relations law which creates a charter for the union bureaucracy to exclude the rank and file (see article on the new Employment Relations Bill). This, and not any social democratic legislation, is the key to real workers strength in crushing the cycle of misery brought about by the capitalist system that has long outlived its use-by date.

The rank and file movement is a start to revolutionising the unions. There are signs that this has begun in Australia where some key positions in the Community and Public Sector Union (equivalent to the PSA) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, have been taken over by militants. But unless this movement is led by communist delegates around a revolutionary programme, it cannot hope to gain any significant strength beyond the laws of the land that it currently yields to. Yet it is a concrete first step that workers in Aotearoa/NZ can follow and eventually begin to make links with on the road to workers of all countries uniting in a new revolutionary communist international.

Designate all worksites as sweatshops.

No! to all anti-immigrant police raids.

For solidarity with all workers designated “illegal”.

No! to the bosses’ immigration laws.

Workers of all countries unite.

From Class Struggle No 32, April-May 2000

Written by raved

August 27, 2007 at 2:47 pm