Redundant clothing workers – NDU fails to take a fighting position

Omar Hamed and Jared Phillips
The Spark June 2009

The National Distribution Union’s (NDU) main public response to the May 15 redundancy of 186 clothing manufacturing workers employed by Lane Walker Rudkin (LWR) has been to invite workers and supporters to hold cake stalls as a fundraising activity for the redundant workers. Of LWR’s 470 staff, 102 in Christchurch, 61 in Greytown, 19 in Pahiatua, and four in Auckland have been made redundant.

LWR is New Zealand’s oldest currently-unionised company, and has operated since 1904. In recent years the company has been managed incompetently as a result of the break up in the personal relationship of Ken and Patricia Anderson, who took over the company from a group of businessmen in 2001. The bank, Westpac, won’t even release the redundancy payments.

Some outside observers have called The NDU’s response to these redundancies “a great initiative”. A real path of resistance would have been the occupation of all LWR factories and plants and the reorganisation of the company under worker’s control. However, other interim measures, such as a serious occupation against Westpac bank to get the redundancy money (which has been withheld from the workers), or local community rallies and demonstrations at the workplaces are better alternatives to that presented by the NDU.

The NDU’s public response is not only insufficient, it is a move in the opposite direction of the approach that needs to be taken against redundancies, especially in a period where redundancies of a more structural nature are taking place as a consequence of the economic downturn.

Another aspect is that the NDU has an unwritten position of supporting the rights of New Zealand employers over the rights of foreign employers. This type of left nationalism impacts on the ability to challenge New Zealand employers such as LWR.

Without a strong history of militant fight-backs against closures in the workers movement in New Zealand, it may seem difficult in some circumstances to wage a serious fight-back against redundancies. However, that difficulty needs to be overcome, not avoided. Its relative political independence from the Labour Party and blue-collar nature of its ranks puts the NDU on the left of the general trade union movement in New Zealand. The NDU should therefore be putting its resources at the forefront for organising workers to develop a fighting strategy.

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