Communist Worker

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

Archive for the ‘Workers Charter’ Category

Aotearoa: Workers Unite for What?

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Matt McCarten’s Unite Workers’ union sacrifices rank and file democracy for deals with bosses and parliamentary careers. McCarten is trying to enlist ‘his’ union as part of the World Social Forum reformist left bloc that tries to make deals between workers and ‘democratic’ bosses as the road to parliamentary socialism.

“My Union”

Unite Workers Association won a good wage increase from Restaurant Brands but how did it do it? By strike action! So far so good. Matt McCarten presented the victory as a “new historic deal” for young fast food workers. But then we hear that instead of taking the proposed deal back to a vote of the members he signed the deal behind the backs of the members. What was the rush? It may have got overwhelmingly support from the membership anyway. So why not take it back to the members?

We know that some fast food workers were upset by the fact that Unite was calling on workers to go on strike by text messaging them. One worker we spoke to who was also a job delegate was called into work to fill in for workers who walked off the job without any discussion or a vote on strike action. She was called a scab by those who walked off.

Were the Restaurant Brands deal and the charge of scab hurled at this young woman isolated cases of things going wrong? Or were they symptomatic of the McCarten political machine? We think the latter. This looks like McCarten using these young workers as media fodder to pressure politicians to back Sue Bradford’s Bill to eliminate discriminatory youth rates, at the cost of their own democratic right to discuss matters and vote on them. In other words the rank and file members of McCarten’s Unite branch are being used by him to back his own campaign to form a new reformist party on the left.

Why doesn’t this surprise us?

Well we’ve seen it coming for years. Back in 02 when the Alliance lost out in Parliament we predicted that McCarten would regroup and try to find a union base for his politics. It took him about 3 years to insert himself into Unite by forming his own branch in Auckland, Unite Workers Association, and start recruiting members, but deliberately excluding beneficiaries and the unemployed.

All the while we kept up a running commentary on McCarten’s methods. First, he exposed workers to unnecessary risk of sacking by his flamboyant, high profile advocacy. Second, he started poaching workers from other unions. Third, he structured UWA so that he controlled the union from the top down. Fourth, he associated the union with the police in the ‘Comrades and Cossacks’ commemoration. Fifth he ran, and continues to run, a scurrilous campaign against Waitemata Unite! a branch of the union based on beneficiaries who have been openly critical of his bureaucratic methods and his exclusion of beneficiaries over several years.

But in spite of these problems, CWG backed the initiative of recruiting non-unionised workers especially young fast food workers. For us this is elementary united front politics. But we always said to Unite organisers that the members had to be in charge. We pushed to make Unite a genuinely rank and file based union. Those inside Unite who were in agreement with this principle assured us that they too were fighting for this objective. It seems however, with the Restaurant Brands deal, that our fears have been justified, and their hopes have been defeated.

Radical Youth ‘walkout’

Radical Youth originated the campaign against youth rates taken up by later by Unite which then steered it behind Bradford’s Bill. The ‘walkout’ organised by Radical Youth in March could not be contained by McCarten’s Unite. Both the Alliance and McCarten praised the walkout but then tried to steer the youth’s actions behind parliamentary reforms to make capitalism a ‘fair’, ‘democratic’, ‘socialist’ society.

But there is no future in such activism. It is no more than media fodder to support parliamentary reforms. Similar street activism was the routine tactic of the Peoples Centre in Auckland when Sue Bradford ran it in the late 1980’s and 1990s without much success. It was also the preferred method of the university students against user pay fees in the 1990s. They made their point, but the protest fizzled because it was always designed to put pressure on parliament.

We don’t think that radical youth were prepared to be used as rent boys and girls on McCarten’s parliamentary roadshow. We see the walkout as part a wider movement of young workers globally that is taking on capitalism itself? This is a movement that goes beyond immediate reforms towards revolution? In this they are not alone.

Young people in France, migrant workers in the US, and oppressed Iraqis, all know there is no way that capitalism can afford ‘democracy’ and a living wage for them. Sure fast food outlets may pay more in NZ, but they are going to screw workers in other ways and in other countries to make their profits. Capitalism today is about taking these rights and conditions away from the weakest. And even the best organised workers in the world, the US autoworkers, are facing crippling job losses and pension and health ‘takebacks’.

So the more pressure radical youth puts on companies here, the more they will find that they are still exploited so that its not just low wages but the wage system that is the problem. Just like the youth in France right now i.e. facing wage slavery. The French youth won a small victory against the CPE, but it will take an unlimited general strike to stop the ruling class from bringing in the measures it wants in some other form.

French Lessons

In France the recent student rebellion proved that students, youth and workers can unite to fight not only bad laws but can mobilise to bring down a government. They were aiming for a general strike to defeat the law. But the union bosses are as usual playing a treacherous role. The Communists and Socialists think that a ‘social Europe’ can be won through parliaments to do everything they can to stop a real all –out general strike from happening.

But not only the open reformists. The leading so-called ‘Trotskyist Party’ the LCR joined with the CP and SP and the Greens to sign a statement begging Chirac to throw out the new law and sit down to talk with the ‘left’ about a ‘consensus’ i.e. ‘compromise’. In other words the so-called ‘far left’ took the struggle off the street back into parliament to do a deal behind the backs of the young workers.

The LCR in France has close relations with the SWP and the Socialist Workers in NZ. The LCR talked about a general strike but did not put this demand on the union officials to force them to call one. This is the same politics of the Workers’ Charter and McCarten’s Unite in New Zealand. They try to contain the spontaneous struggles of the youth, students and workers by making backroom deals with the bosses and with governments. Their reformist perspective is to build a popular front in which the ‘left’ can pressure the right. Fat chance! Right across the world, the parties of the ‘new type’ are no more than the broad left leg of the popular front alliance with the ‘democratic’ capitalists, sowing illusions in young, militant workers that they can deliver parliamentary socialism from above, and disarming them in the face of imperialist attacks.

Where to from here?

Fight for rank and file democracy! Challenge the leadership? Make McCarten accountable! Insist that all issues are debated at all up meetings. Insist that delegates are elected by the rank and file and are accountable and recallable. Stand up for your rights!

Unite for workers power, not bureaucratic power! Build fighting, democratic unions, not parliamentary careers!

Reject the McCartenite, Workers Charter local kiwi branch of the World Social Forum bloc that draws young workers under the influence of the bourgeois and restorationist leadership of Chavez, Castro, Morales and Lula that is containing and strangling the revolutionary masses in Latin America!

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Workers Charter: a New-New-Labour party?

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Workers Charter had its founding conference in October. CWG members went along to offer some advice. Here is a report of how we saw it.

We stand by our critique of the Workers Charter (printed in Class Struggle 62) and its parent movement the World Social Forum (critiqued in Class Struggle 59). We wish to continue to engage in critical support of the Workers Charter (WC). Communist Workers Group does not wish to build another parliamentary-type of workers party and will criticise unreservedly any movement the WC makes in that direction. We are keen to support the building of a revolutionary party, unfortunately the origins of the WC indicate that it will mislead workers.

Members of Communist Workers Group decided to test the un-democratic (Stalinist) methods of Workers Charter, which had said they were going to exclude us (and ACA) from the conference.  We considered it important to challenge the internet noise of SWO / Unity, on NZ activism, in reality. (The Socialist Workers Organisation has renamed itself “Unity”, it was previously the Communist Party of New Zealand – a Stalinist group). Unity members were the gatekeepers on the front desk and did interview us on how critical we were going to be, to which we wished to maintain our rights to speak critically, while giving a positive direction for the workers movement. This could have gone either way, however, the appearance of democracy was maintained.

The meeting rules were set out from the start, we had to leave if we thought the Charter was useless. This does not allow for overall discussion of the weaknesses of the Charter. Unfortunately the Charter may be worse than useless, it may suck working people into a dead end road, which does not challenge capitalism. It is urgent to pose the question of how to avoid this Charter becoming a bureaucratic parliamentary vehicle for the likes of Matt McCarten.

The speakers to introduce the Charter were a SWO leader followed by Matt McCarten. It wasn’t what was said but what wasn’t, that is notable: I failed to get a clear understanding of what the purpose of the Charter was from either speaker, and neither made distinct their own politics from that of the charter, or declared their own intentions. No history of the Charter, or connection with the World Social Forum was declared.

It was a milestone for the writer to be allowed into a Unity dominated meeting, and to speak. Our opportunity for contribution was time limited. The writer put about 5 amendments or additions within 2 minutes speaking time. This limited my ability to argue for the amendments and additions that were put to the charter itself.

Many others raised their criticisms and suggested improvement to the Charter –which created a squeeze on time, with numbers of amendments and additions put. Many of these were put to vote and successfully added, for the next rounds of discussion. And have improved this minimal program of rights. Some amendments were left as contentious issues for further discussion. I will leave much of the detail of the Charter and its ongoing discussion for Workers Charter to run with, and discus a couple of additions we put to the conference.

We asked for the addition of the word capitalism to describe current social system. This charter was so minimal in its approach that it did not even include the word capitalism or describe capitalists as the ruling class. While the WC is appealing to workers, the level of class consciousness in its program is minimal. To fight for workers rights is to take on the capitalist system, unless the charter is clear about that, then it is likely to end up like the current Labour Party, negotiating with and ruling on behalf of the capitalist class.

This sort of vagueness about class leads to a Labour Party outright attacking workers, to maintain profits for the capitalist. The NZ Labour Party clearly did that in 1984 – 1990 when it cut services to workers (health, social welfare, education) and sold socially owned assets or restructured them into capitalist ‘for profit’ SOEs (State Owned Enterprises). A very current example of this was discussed at the conference. Air New Zealand has just announced its attack on workers of the Engineering services by its proposed redundancies and closing of a whole branch of service. Air NZ is part owned by the state. We argued that the WC needed include nationalising assets (even the Alliance Party program already includes this in their program). To re-nationalise Air NZ fully could then be used in order to maintain those jobs. Pressure needs to be applied to the current Labour Government by picket line defence of the engineering facilities. If this Labour government allows Air NZ engineers to be sold down the road, that is another betrayal of workers interests. Communist Workers Group is for the expropriation without compensation of Air New Zealand, to be run under workers control. It would take a working class pickets and engineering workers occupation of the engineering facilities to achieve this.

Interestingly ‘Unity’ / Socialist Workers voted against an addition we put up of “for socialist revolution”. To us this indicates they continue a Stalinist tradition of running with minimal programs and mass parties, while hiding their “revolutionary” beliefs until the ‘critical’ moment. Even the pre-Blairite British Labour Party had a clause for “socialism” (also known as clause 4). So this WC is in great danger of becoming just another parliamentary party, sucking workers into sell-outs and a dead-end.

Communist Workers Group fully support building a party on a rank & file trade union basis. We were successful arguing for rank & file run, democratic fighting unions, to be included as part of the charter. Only a strong rank & file driven union can avoid being sold out by bureaucratic deals between misleading paid officials and the employer or government. Those sort of sell outs are rife, for example where union officials just argue about how many redundancies, and how much redundancy pay. Officials can give false hope of stopping redundancies, when they are up against the capitalist system.

Organising workers into picket lines and strike committees is the localised strength of the workers movement. The extent that Workers Charter members can build a fight back around existing struggles, can organise workers in on-the-ground fight backs, will be the real test. It is heartening to hear that WC members have supported pickets of striking workers. However it is also frightening that the WC steering committee (leadership) could have left out basic trade union rights from its Charter.

Communist Workers Group looks forward to working with any activist or group committed to the overthrow of capitalism. And we will criticise any movement that is vague about that!

Chavez’ ‘21st century socialism’ not good enough for Workers Charter

From a discussion on Aotearoa Indymedia
Unity Reader defended the SW’s ‘turn to social democracy’ and the expulsion of the CWG from the Alliance in 1989 and its exclusion from Workers Charter. A member of CWG replied:

“Someone called Unity Reader says that the SWO is justified in taking a turn to social democracy because socialist revolution is not on the agenda in NZ right now.

. . .There has never been a revolutionary situation in NZ in the nearly two centuries of its capitalist existence. And that is because the working class has never been independent of parliament or the bourgeoisie. The first step out of a non-revolutionary situation is to assert the class independence of workers from the bosses!

What Unity Reader fails to understand is that there is a difference between united fronts and revolutionary programs. In non-revolutionary times workers should join forces in united fronts that advance their interests as a class, but not by suspending their revolutionary program and making a ‘turn’ to social democracy – the bosses program! Revolutionaries are obliged to fight inside united fronts to prove that it is their program that will advance the interests of workers.

What Workers Charter is a reduction of the political program of the working class to a minimal program that does not even MENTION socialism. If this was just a loose network to organise in the unions and fight in united fronts, this would not be so bad. But WC presents itself as the embryo of a new mass workers party, on a social democratic program of the bosses

This takes us to Unity Reader’s ‘study’ of the history of the New Labour Party. The CWG entered the NLP because it its leaders claimed to be forming a new workers party. We were obliged as revolutionaries to fight for a revolutionary workers party, not meekly sit around while Anderton and McCarten betrayed the workers who had broken with Labour and took the NLP back into parliament as part of a middle class’ Alliance, which then propped up another Labour Government.

Workers Charter is headed down the same road, but this time it’s not a tragedy; it’s a farce. Its a farce because it has already been rejected by a large number of militants as too little, too late, based on manifestly dead-end reformist politics, and at a time when its own international allies, the militant workers of Latin America, Asia etc are moving rapidly towards socialist politics under a reborn ‘socialism of the 21st century’ championed by Chavez in the spirit of Che, Castro etc.

When the militant masses are moving in the direction of socialism, WC moves backward. This is not the ‘backwardness’ given by NZ’s particular place in the world, because in itself that’s deceptive and open to rapid changes, but the backward political perspective of those who have given up on socialist revolution in order to build another parliamentary party.

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06 

Supersize my Pay, Supersize my Party

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Matt McCarten’ s Unite Workers Union has got off to a good start in building a union base for a new workers party. This project took a leap ahead with its Supersize my Pay campaign.

Unites campaign to recruit young casualised fast-food workers has met with some success. Recruiting, organising and introducing active campaigns like the Supersize My Pay campaign is a good start.

Attacking youth rates is way overdue. But the call for a minimum wage of $12 an hour is too small. Even the NZCTU leadership can endorse these demands. They do not reflect the real needs of workers for higher wages, and are a compromise with the labour bureaucracy of the CTU to embarrass the Labour led government.

This strategy betrays the left bureaucrat’s credo that a revived labour movement can push the Labour Party to the left. This is has been the politics of Matt McCarten since his early days as a union organiser and Labour Party insider. It remained his objective as a leader of the Alliance from 1980 to 2003. These demands are not strong enough to expose the clapped out labour bureaucrats or the Labour government who pay give lip service and stall for money, but to build a base in the unions for the new reformist workers party that will emerge from the Workers’ Charter before the next election.

The irony is that even though McCarten’s strategy is a rightward break from the Alliance the rump of the Alliance voted for the Workers Charter at its annual conference after an address from John Minto. Does this mean that the Alliance now has two programs, or that its vote was indicative of a cooperative attitude to WC or what? It seems that the rump of the Alliance now recognises that McCarten has stolen a march on them so there is a sheepish shuffle back to acknowledging the only viable Green Left kiwi franchise in town.

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06

Written by raved

January 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Workers Vote Labour Back Let’s take the next step!

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The 2005 general election has polarised voters and split parliament into two finely-balanced blocs. It is likely that if Labour’s majority survives the counting of special votes Helen Clark will try to form a minority coalition government with the Greens supported by the Maori Party on supply and confidence. It is unlikely that United Future or New Zealand First will support Labour formally with the Greens in government. On the other hand, the massive party vote for Labour in the Maori seats will cause a split in the Maori Party if Turia tries to reject Labour and make a deal with National. In this article we analyse the election and offer a socialist approach to the new political situation it has created.

Workers Reject Brash

Some commentators have mistakenly called the election ‘a swing to the right’. In fact, National managed to increase its vote at the expense of the minor right-wing parties, not at the expense of Labour. Overall, the election shows what every vote since 1993 has shown – that a majority of New Zealanders want a centre-left government that keeps some independence from the United States and intervenes in the economy to redistribute income.

Don Brash ran an aggressively right-wing campaign, calling for cuts to social spending, big tax breaks for the rich, and closer ties with the United States. Senior National leaders like John Key and Lockwood Smith enjoy very close ties to the ruling class of the United States, and a National victory would have meant the further Americanization of the economy, the swift resumption of nuclear ship visits, and more New Zealand contributions to George Bush’s War of Terror. But despite a lavish and cynical advertising campaign from National and a biased media, workers rejected Brash’s agenda.

The election also shows that Labour is still a ‘bourgeois workers party’ – a party with its roots in the working class despite its capitalist program. Labour was unable to rely on the support that the Business Round Table and American billionaires gave to National. Instead, it had to use the trade unions to do much of its campaigning work. Trade union delegates and organisers spent thousands of hours criss—crossing the working class suburbs of the major centres, knocking on doors and distributing propaganda for Labour. Unions used their access to big worksites to hold mass election meetings with their members. The Council of Trade Unions ran an advertising campaign for Labour, and a number of unions made large donations to the party.

But the weakness of the union movement and Labour’s failure to restore confidence in public services like health and education meant that Don Brash was able temporarily to tempt a section of the working class away from Labour with the promise of tax cuts, and with populist attacks on Maori, gays and ‘political correctness’. Keen to shore up its support amongst its core voters, Labour moved slightly to the left during the election campaign, promising a write-off of interest for student loans and aggressively attacking Brash’s support for the invasion of Iraq and support for the privatisation of health and education.

On election night, National’s big early lead was turned around as the votes of the ‘big battalions’ of the working class in the major centres swung in behind Labour. Labour’s support was particularly strong in the working class heartland of South Auckland, where the party took over 50% in many electorates and an incredible 71.6% of the vote in Mangere. A map of election results published in the Sunday Star-Times brought out the polarisation, showing a sea of National blue surrounding patches of Labour red covering the working class electorates in the big cities.

Greens fail to woo workers

The Green Party’s 5% share of the vote represents a failure. The party had gone into the election hoping to expand its base of support by filling the vacuum left by the Alliance’s implosion in 2002, and by Labour’s drift to the right in government. The Greens tried to add a slice of the working class to their traditional voting base of the radical petty bourgeoisie, liberal professionals, and students.

In an attempt to appeal to trade unionists, the Greens developed a new industrial relations policy which was well to the left of what Labour offered workers on the campaign trail. They touted other progressive policies for workers, like the abolition of youth rates and the raising of the minimum wage to $12 an hour. Partly as a result of these policies, a number of unions endorsed the Greens as the ‘second-best option’ for voters who could not support Labour.

The Greens attempted to appeal to the overwhelmingly working class Maori vote by forming a close relationship with the Maori Party and echoing the Maori Party line on issues like the seabed and foreshore. Near the end of the campaign they even received the ‘second-best option’ endorsement of Tariana Turia. But the Greens’ attempt to expand their base looks to have been a failure. Their vote dropped from its 2002 level, and they performed poorly in both the Maori electorates and in working class strongholds like South Auckland.

The Greens’ failure is a blow to its ‘left’ faction, which is represented in parliament by left social democrats Keith Locke and Sue Bradford. Locke and Bradford are ex-Marxists who still look toward the working class as the bedrock of left-wing politics. Both have worked hard to identify the Greens with workers’ issues. By contrast, the right-wing faction led by Rod Donald finds its natural base in small business and the liberal middle class, sections of the population not usually attracted to policies like the extension of the right to strike and the lifting of the minimum wage. (A third Green faction, comprising members with a more ‘fundamentalist’ attitude to key environmental issues like genetic engineering, can be identified with Donald’s co-leader, Jeneatte Fitzsimmons.)

Donald and his supporters are likely to push for more and more compromises on ‘touchy’ issues like genetic engineering, the War of Terror, and industrial relations, in an effort to get the Greens into the secure coalition with Labour which they think is necessary for political survival.

Maori Party Stumbles Rightwards

In the aftermath of the great seabed and foreshore hikoi and the by-election victory of Tariana Turia last year, many commentators predicted that the Maori Party would win all seven Maori seats. In the event, it has had to be content with four victories. The disappointment caused by the failure to achieve a clean sweep must be compounded by the low list vote the Maori Party achieved. Labour won more party votes than the Maori Party, even in the electorates that it lost to its new rival. Turia herself noted that the party was born out of a movement of 45,000 people, but a 2% party vote represents just over 40,000 voters.

The Maori Party’s underachievement can be put down partly to the strategy that it has pursued since its formation. Despite its origins in the hikoi, the party has consistently counterposed vote-seeking to protest, insisting that the ‘hikoi to the ballot box’ is the key to advancing Maori interests.

Partly because of Tariana Turia’s bitter experiences in government, and partly because of the advice of Matt McCarten, the party has tried to avoid declaring its support for the election of a Labour government, insisting that it is open to political alliances with any party. Even ‘radical’ candidates like Hone Harawira have insisted that the Maori Party is ‘neither left nor right’.

The refusal to rule out some sort of arrangement with the parties of the right was compounded by Turia’s disgraceful votes in parliament against Civil Unions and Paid Parental Leave, and the vague, almost evasive quality of much of the party’s ‘policy’, so that many potential voters got the impression that the Maori Party was not interested in the traditional causes of the left. Harawira and co may think that categories like ‘left’ and ‘right’ are out of date, but most Maori voters do not agree with them.

Labour was able to seize on the Maori Party’s equivocal attitude to National to run a very effective scare campaign in the Maori electorates. Again and again, Labour warned Maori voters that Maori Party MPs could let National into power, and thus bring on the destruction of Maori seats and cuts to funding for institutions like kohanga reo and iwi-administered health clinics. Under pressure, Turia was forced late in the campaign to hose down speculation about a coalition with National, but she continued to refuse to promise to support a Labour government on confidence and supply, even if Labour won more votes than National. Instead, Turia endorsed the Greens, a party with little following in the Maori seats, as the ‘next-best option’ to the Maori Party.

The Maori Party’s blunders mean it will have to be content with the re-election of Turia and the scalps of the mediocre Dover Samuels, the obscure Mita Ririnui, and the discredited John Tamihere. Parekura Horomia’s prized East Coast seat has escaped the new party, despite the fact that Horomia was the frontman for Labour’s hated seabed and foreshore policy. The ‘neither left nor right’ strategy has also badly affected the building of the Maori Party, robbing the organisation of support from the trade unions and the Pakeha left, disorientating grassroots party activists, and allowing all manner of right-wingers and opportunists to campaign in the party’s name.

The finely balanced result of the election is likely to tempt the Maori Party to try to continue its ‘neither left nor right’ strategy by attempting to play the two main party blocs off against one another, in an attempt to score some minor policy wins on narrowly ‘Maori’ issues. Besides provoking a revolt from the rank and file, such an approach will only increase the uneasiness which the trade union movement, the Pakeha left, and the many Maori who still vote Labour feel towards the new party.

Lost to the left of Labour

Based on programs well to the left of Labour’s, the election campaigns of the Alliance Party and the Anti Capitalist Alliance attracted only tiny numbers of voters. The Anti Capitalists’ most successful candidate attracted only 95 votes, while the Alliance scored only 0.07% of party list votes.

A third grouping to the left of Labour, Matt McCarten’s ‘Workers Charter movement’ sat on the election sidelines, but announced its intention of becoming ‘a mass party sooner rather than later’.

Both the Anti Capitalist Alliance and McCarten claim that Labour is no longer a party with a working class base, but the election result proves otherwise. Workers were not interested in throwing away their votes when faced by the threat of the return of nuclear ships and 90s-style scorched earth neo-liberal economic policies.

The Next Step for Socialists

The unity the working class against showed Brash proves the correctness of our call for a critical vote for Labour. Critical support was necessary to keep out Brash and keep Labour in power, so that workers can learn from experience that Labour cannot serve their interests, and that a new, extra-parliamentary force capable of taking state power for the working class is necessary.

In the context of a likely Labour-led government and a weak union movement, what are the best tactics to advance the cause of workers?

We need to get the unions and working class voters that support the Labour Party to challenge the party’s policies. Labour is only in power because of the campaigning of trade unionists and the votes of workers, yet it pays more attention to the voices of business and of the US government than it does to the needs of the working class. For instance, Labour has already told its trade union supporters that its third term will not see any major change to New Zealand’s restrictive, anti-strike industrial relations legislation. The party is much more interesting in courting business and in pursuing a free trade deal with the US.

The Action Program we published a month ago is the sort of program we need to fight for in the unions to put pressure on Labour. However, the likely presence of minor parties with no base in the unions in and around a Labour-led government complicates this tactic. Labour can try to use deals with these parties as alibis to hold back on worker-friendly policies.

We have to fight to make Labour act for workers and to reject any alibi that says Labour can’t act on behalf of workers because of its agreements with minor parties. Labour has to be held responsible for its betrayals, not its partners. There is plenty of common ground with the Greens and with the Maori Party that we can use to put pressure on Labour.

While the Greens don’t have an official base in organised labour, they are now getting regular endorsements from the unions. Let’s make them deliver to the unions rather than to small business! Like all petty bourgeois parties they should back labour if they think it is stronger than the right. If they won’t then their ability to con workers is that much less. The Maori Party has a working class base, so we should force the party to listen to that base. If it doesn’t it will split along class lines sooner or later.

All of the demands below (and any others that become obvious) should be concretised and advanced in the union movement to pressure Labour and appeal to the best supporters of the Maori Party and the Greens.


  • Jobs for all on a living wage – for 35 hour week and a 24 hour free child care!

If the pressure comes on, none of the parties of the centre-left will want to be the one that says no to full employment and 24 hour child care.·

  • Tax the Rich; Tax Capital Gains!

After surviving a campaign between the greedies and the needies, which of the parties of the centre-left will want to appear as soft on the rich? A capital gains tax on all speculative gains should be common ground for all of these parties. If Labour pulls back for fear of upsetting foreign investors, or the Maori Party or the Greens want tax breaks for small business, we need to fight for tax breaks for collective ownership, and capital gains for private windfalls from speculation in land, shares etc.

  • No ‘free’ trade deal with the United States!

Much of the momentum behind bad pieces of Labour legislation has come from a desire to ‘prepare’ the New Zealand economy for a ‘free’ trade deal with the US. Barriers to US investment like Maori control over resources like the seabed and foreshore or restrictions on foreign ownership of Kiwi land have to be cleared away by a Labour government desperate for a deal with Bush. Green and Maori Party leaders must not be allowed to backslide on their opposition to the Americanization of the New Zealand economy. Labour supporters who hate Brash and Bush must realise that Labour leaders share much of National’s attachment to Americanization.

  • Open the borders to worker migrants!

All the centre-left parties claim they want skilled worker migrants. The Maori Party’s worker base will be sympathetic if their jobs are not threatened by migration. Full employment based on reduced hours would reduce job competition. Nationalisation of key sectors of the economy under workers control would extend naturally to workers control over worker immigration.

  • Re-nationalise Rail, Telecom etc. with no compensation and under workers’ control!

We should raise these demands now. These assets have become cash cows for the rich. They should be taken back without compensation under workers control. We need to extend this demand urgently to nationalisation (socialisation) in several other areas.

1) major export players like Fonterra and Carter Holt Harvey need to be nationalised. Investing the Cullen find in forests is a step in the right direction. But Carter Holt Harvey should not be compensated. Both of these core primary industries have been hugely subsidised by generations of past labour, workers and working farmers. Fonterra’s producer ownership needs to be protected by public ownership like the old Dairy Board.

2) vital energy resources such as the oil refinery at Marsden Point must be nationalised. Especially in the light of the price gauging of the oil companies. We should call for bilateral trade in oil and agriculture with Venezuela!

3) the Kiwibank should be a state bank, not a State Owned Enterprise, so that the combination of state subsidy of Kiwibank and regulation of the big Australian banks can remove their stranglehold over the economy.

  • Troops out of Afghanistan!

This is a concrete example of the general demand that Kiwi troops not be used in any US, NATO or UN sponsored war. The Greens and the Maori Party could be pressured by their rank and file into standing up to Labour over Afghanistan, exposing Anderton and Labour as only slightly less blatant supporters of US imperialism than Brash.

  • For a Workers·’ Government!

For all of the above demands to be implemented, the development of independent working class power and ultimately workers’ councils and defence committees able to launch a workers’ government would be necessary. In other words a workers’ government only becomes a reality when it takes power from the bourgeoisie, but along the way the class organs necessary to support this government have to be built. The occupied factories, collective farms, and neighbourhood assemblies that have appeared in recent years in South American countries like Venezuela and Argentina provide rough models for a workers’ government. See also:

From Class Struggle 63 Sept/Oct 2005

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

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Union Officials Sellout
Drivers, Officials and the Stagecoach deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Step: Rank and File Control!

The current situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What must be done?

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

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

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

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

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

Huntly Miners 3-week lockout ‘settled’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPMU ‘looks after’ its officials first

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We respond

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

District Health Boards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aotearoa/New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity with Cops not unemployed workers

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* The right to free public healthcare and education.

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

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

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

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

* The right to unite and strike.

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

* The right to public control of social assets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unions we need

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

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

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

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

IWW Appeal to the Rank and File

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Class Struggle 62  July-August 2005