Workers Party talks to union officials

Workers Party Wellington Central candidate Don Franks reports on his recent meeting with NZ Council of Trade Unions representatives.

When the local CTU organiser emailed around to say the Local Affiliates Council was going to discuss General Election strategy, I called back and asked for a few minutes to put our case at one of their monthly meetings. They stalled for weeks and wanted more information in writing before they finally gave me a hearing, at the local AGM.

I explained that the Workers Party is standing several electorate candidates this election and we’re also running on the party list. So, for the first time in New Zealand’s political history, every worker will have the option of voting for a socialist candidate.

Then I described our programme, which calls for:

  • opposition to all New Zealand and Western intervention in the Third World
  • jobs for all, with a living income and a shorter working week
  • the unrestricted right of workers to organise and take industrial action
  • equality for women, Maori and other ethnic minorities, and gay men and women
  • open borders and full rights for migrant workers
  • a working people’s republic.

I then set out my personal credentials. I have over 30 years’ experience in the union movement, including positions in the Coachworkers’, Musicians’ and Service Workers’ unions. I have experience as a delegate on large militant sites and on small unorganised sites. I’ve supported many strikes, union protests, pickets and campaigns.

As a factory hand just above the minimum wage I understand and empathise with low-paid workers’ concerns.

If elected I’d retain from my MP’s salary the CTU minimum wage claim of $15 an hour for my personal use, and donate the rest of my pay to causes advancing workers liberation. I’d concentrate all my parliamentary resources into an organising centre to promote the interests and struggles of the working class.

I asked the LAC for access to address union meetings so that union members can consider our views and make up their own minds about whether to vote for the Workers Party.

The MUNZ Union secretary chairing the meeting immediately offered an invitation to address his union’s monthly stopwork meeting.

There were just two questions.

One was to elaborate on our freedom to strike policy. I said as far as I know we are the only party standing for complete freedom to strike. I told how in previous years when I got some pro-strike union resolutions passed in the SFWU I’d been leaned on by Darien Fenton (then SFWU secretary, now Labour MP) to pull back. She said some strike restrictions were needed for workers such as ambulance drivers. I said I had complete faith in the working class to be the sole judge of how and when to use the strike weapon.

There was one other question, about what we mean by a “working people’s republic”. I explained that of course we’re for cutting ties with the monarchy, but there are quite a few other republicans around, such as Jim Bolger. We don’t want the sort of republic he’d want – we want one where the working people call all the shots as well as doing all the work.

I had come to the CTU meeting ready to debate their well know view that unionists should vote for the Labour party but no-one at their meeting was prepared to openly advance that position. There were no more questions.

By contrast, at the factory where I work there was quite a bit of enthusiasm when I announced our campaign – more than I’d expected. People liked the idea of a worker promoting workers’ issues. There was a lot of speculation about how we might do on the list. One guy said, “I’m sick of Labour and National and now I’ve got something to vote for – Workers Party.”

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