The following article by Workers Party members Mike Kay and Byron Clark serves as a small summary of some of the recent industrial action. We note from the time of publication these struggles would have changed and we will provide fuller analysis in an upcoming issue of The Spark.
The mood on the picket line at the Ports of Auckland remained staunch and upbeat after the first week of a four week strike. Several of other unions were flying their flags in solidarity, and a steady stream of toots in support flowed from the passing cars, trucks and trains.
A number of wharfies described their disappointment and anger at the lack of backing they have received from Labour-aligned Auckland mayor Len Brown. The dispute has inevitably taken on a political dimension, as plans to eventually privatise the port become more evident. The workers pride themselves on the shipshape safety culture they have established over the years on the Auckland wharf. But management continually try to push the envelope: “Young workers are being pressurised to drive the straddle cranes round like stock cars.”
Last month workers on the picket line witnessed two ships in port being unloaded by scab labour. Although the sight was a somewhat demoralising, the universal comment from the guys was: “just wait till that ship gets to Melbourne.” A great source of strength for the wharfies is knowing that the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF) has got their back. ITWF affiliated union members held a solidarity protest at the Port of Tauranga on March 3 despite torrential rain. Pickets also took place in Wellington where workers are refusing to move containers.
On March 7 Ports of Auckland announced it was making the 300 plus wharfies redundant and replacing them with casual labour. The Saturday after this thousands of workers and progressives turned out and demonstrated on the streets of Auckland.
Meanwhile, in the meat industry, over 700 meat workers at the Talleys-owned AFFCO plants in Horotiu, Feilding, Whanganui, Moerewai and Wairoa were locked out, with their remaining union workmates walking out in solidarity. Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly told the Manawatu Standard that the port and meatworks were some of New Zealand’s most profitable businesses:
They are all trying to screw down the cost of labour in their workforce. The meatworks and the port are right in the centre of the productive sector and [these employers are] using the most vicious employment relations tactics, probably backed by a government which has done nothing but change the law against workers’ interests.
Horotiu site union president Don Arnold told Fairfax reporters that AFCO “want more work for the same money.” Under proposed changes workers would be expected to process more carcasses per hour for the same pay
Strikes have also taken place at 20 Oceania Group-owned rest homes. Aged care workers represented by the Service and Food Workers Union and the Nurses Organisation currently earn between $13.60 and $16.22 an hour. They are taking action for a 3.5% pay increase and adequate staffing levels. The employer has offered a 1% pay rise over three years, well below the increasing cost of living.
Workers in these industries have helped set work standards for everyone else for many decades. It is in the interests of all working people to support these workers in their struggles against flexibilisation and casualization.