by Ian Anderson, originally published in Occupied Dominion Post Issue 5
On the 15th of October 2011, comrades in around 1500 cities rallied together on a global day of action inspired by Occupy Wall Street, resisting corporate greed. Four days later on the 19th of October, local corporation ANZCO locked out 111 union members at its CMP plant in Marton, demanding that they accept pay cuts of 20-30% before returning to work. The lockout and the occupation have each lasted nearly two months, and bonds of solidarity are forming.
ANZCO embodies the disparity in power and wealth which occupiers seek to redress. The company posts turnover of over $1.3bn. Sir Graeme Harrison, Chairman of the Board, was recently knighted and lives comfortably on Oriental Parade. All of this wealth is produced at plants such as CMP Rangitikei, by the workers currently under threat.
ANZCO is jointly owned by local capitalists and overseas investors. Its tactic of cutting wages to stay competitive is typical of recent trends; real wages in New Zealand have declined 25% over the past 3 decades. Many workers at CMP Rangitikei raise families, and can’t afford to have their wages cut by 30% in a period of rising prices.
However ANZCO is not just attempting to cut costs, they are also attempting to undermine our collective power. Before issuing the lockout notice, the company individually contacted many workers and offered them individual (rather than collective) contracts, in exchange for keeping their jobs. This is an attempt to smash the Meat Workers Union itself. However the dispute plays out, it will send an important signal to organized labour, to protest movements, and to the 1%. We cannot afford to let them take our collective power, to pick us off.
With its un-unionised workforce, ANZCO-CMP Rangitikei runs below capacity. Action on the picket line seeks to disrupt production, to hurt the bottom line.
The Meat Workers Union called for its first national day of action on November the 17th, nearly a month into the lockout. Comrades packed into buses and vans across the country to join the picket line. The Meat Workers’ Union itself mobilized unionists from regions as far flung as Gore, while other organizations sent delegations in solidarity. Occupy Wellington sent around 15 on a midnight bus funded by the Council of Trade Unions, aiming to arrive before the first scab trucks.
Over the day around 200 joined the picket line. Aware of the union’s power in numbers, ANZCO-CMP called off processing. Picketers from around the country celebrated this halt in production with chants of “Who’s Got The Power?” and “Stand Up, Fight Back.” Occupy Wellington and Christchurch passed motions of unreserved support. Soon an Occupy Marton (of one tent, then nine…) was up and running.
However, the company clearly intended to catch up later, when the busloads of comrades departed. Although the Occupy Wellington crew continued to carpool to Marton, delivering supplies of food, coffee and bodies for the picket line – it became necessary to take things a step further.
The next nationwide day of action targeted McDonalds, a major customer of ANZCO. Unite Union, which represents fast-food workers, sent a mass email to its members informing them of this action. The Meat Workers Union is demanding that McDonalds cease buying its paddies from ANZCO, pointing out how consumer action forced them to buy free range eggs. Rallies from Invercargill to Whangarei demanded that consumers boycott McDonalds.
As we develop strategies to challenge ANZCO, to smash the lockout, we must also support the locked out workers directly. Supporters will hold fundraising events for the duration of the lockout. Anyone who wants to make a donation can find account details below. If just one locked out worker decides they can’t survive the picket line, that this pay cut is better than nothing, that’s a loss for the whole 99%.