Communist Worker

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

Archive for the ‘Youth Rates’ 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

Aotearoa: ‘Clean Start’ campaign

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CWG members were at the Methodist City Mission Hall, for the Auckland launch of the Clean Start – Fair Deal for Cleaners campaign, which is being waged in New Zealand by the Service and Food Workers Union and in Australia by the SFWU’s sister union, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union.

About one hundred and twenty people – union organisers, delegates, rank and file members, journalists, and the usual unctuous politicians – listened to New Zealand Idol winner Rosita Vai give a rousing start to proceedings by filling the hall with her twenty-four track voice.

Vai’s would be a hard voice for anyone to follow, and the nasal whine of SFWU National Secretary John Ryall never stood a chance. Vocal performance aside, Ryall did make some sound points about the necessity and justice of the cleaners’ campaign, citing research which shows that cleaners in New Zealand work three times as much floor space in a shift as their Texan counterparts. Given that Texas is not a part of the world renowned for strong trade unions, Ryall’s data spoke volumes about the situation of cleaners in New Zealand. Sue, an SFWU delegate from Auckland Airport, made the same point using personal experience rather than statistics, noting that she’d been working at the airport for seven years, for a ‘really really really mean’ boss who had recently offered her a thirty-five cent pay increase. ‘That’s a box of matches’, Sue observed. In her seven years at the airport, she had helped increase union membership from 35 to 140, as more and more workers saw the necessity of uniting to demand more than a box of matches.

The SFWU is demanding a minimum pay rate of $12 an hour for all cleaners, the establishment of a proper health and safety regime in the buildings cleaners service, and the end of the sub-contracting of cleaning services to fly-by-night outfits who make impossible demands on workers. It is not clear, though, how these aims are to be achieved. John Ryall spoke of ‘waking the companies that own the buildings in Auckland as well as Australian cities’ up to their ‘social responsibilities’, and getting them ‘to sit down at the table with the union’. The task, it seemed, was the conversion of bosses from a profit-driven immorality to a community-minded generosity. MP Mark Gosche mounted the podium to make a similarly evangelical appeal to ‘all those big businessmen who want to shake hands with Polynesian superstars like Rosita and Tana Umaga to also respect the parents of these people, the low-paid workers’. But big business and its advertising agents use celebrities like Umaga and Vai as cynically as they uses cleaners: both are exploited, it’s simply that – until they retire or record an album that flops – the celebrities are more valuable commodities than the cleaners.

Gosche’s fellow Labour MP Darien Fenton followed him to the podium, and delivered a breathtakingly banal speech. Fenton recalled her many years in leadership positions in the SFWU, and the effort and financial expense that went into the Labour election campaign that dragged her into parliament last year. ‘I haven’t forgotten you and where I came from, I always keep my desk clean, and I always talk to the parliament cleaners’ Fenton announced proudly. Whether such shining examples of working class militancy represent an adequate return for the tens of thousands the union spent getting Fenton to parliament is open to question.

Green MP Keith Locke made a speech which managed the not-difficult task of upstaging both Gosche and Fenton. Locke noted that the Green Party demands an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour, and called on the SFWU to support Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill to abolish youth rates. Neither Gosche nor Fenton had managed to mention either the minimum wage or youth rates, preferring to bask in the feeble glow of Labour’s 1999 Employment Relations Act, and stoke up fears of National MP Wayne Mapp’s doomed 90 Day Probation Bill. The failure of these two members of Labour’s ‘left’ faction to so much as mention a progressive piece of legislation like Bradford’s Bill should be a warning to all SFWU members. If it is to be successful, the Clean Start campaign will have to rely on rank and file action, not the ex-leaders the union has packed off to Wellington.

The internationalism of linking up the NZ and Australian unions is an important move, since the cleaners would be working for many of the same firms (such as Spotless) now that NZ is virtually a branch of Australian capitalism. According to one of the SFWU organisers, the US service worker union, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) is also involved. This is one of the biggest unions in the states with 35,000 cleaners (janitors) as members.

This was the union that made a big splash in the early 1990s unionising mainly Latino women workers in the big cities in the US – the Justice for Janitors campaign. Ken Loach made a good film on the Los Angeles campaign, “Bread and Roses”. The film was notable for depicting an almost unrecognisable LA from the usual glitzy Hollywood image. Some of the tactics used by the workers such as invading the private parties of super-rich lawyers whose offices they cleaned (inspiring viewing) could be used to advantage here. Imagine occupying the Koru and Kangaroo Lounges.

We hope the SFWU is planning a big rank and file contingent for May Day. It would be most fitting for NZ service workers, many of them migrant workers, to join in solidarity with the many US (around 12 million ‘illegals’) migrants who will be on the streets for a nationwide stopwork May 1 to tell Bush where he can stick his plan to make’ illegals’ criminals.

The mass movement of migrant workers in the US is the biggest thing to hit the US working class for years. I hope that some of the inspiration rubs off on kiwi and Aussie workers! It could be just what is needed to kick start a much needed rank and file control of the unions in these countries.

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

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