“This means class war! Smash the anti-union laws!”

Daphna Whitmore

There was a spirited protest outside the National Party conference in Auckland today. The Herald reported the turnout at 300. At one point dozens of protesters stormed into the hotel where the conference was being held.

Storming the conference hotel

John Minto speaking at the protest

Despite Key earlier saying National wouldn’t make a move on labour laws this term, the government has now launched an attack on union rights. Given the diminished strength of the union movement it seems like “over kill”. On the other hand, it could be that the capitalists feel that the limited rights currently enjoyed by workers are excessive, and that the unions have not earned those rights.

While many workers may have little understanding of the concept of union access rights and what is at stake, most will be angered by the extension of the 90 day trial period. That will affect a big chunk of the working class.

The measures announced by the Nats today are just what the small and medium sized employers have been calling for, but are not a central concern of big employers. Big employers have no problem sacking workers and handling the mediation process under current legislation. Few sacked workers are ever reinstated, but small employers want to dispense with even the pretence of “fairness”.

At the rally today a  Dairy Worker’s Union representative said they’d be taking the fight to the workplace and be calling on workers to strike to defend fellow workers sacked in the 90 day period.

One action like that would be worth a thousand mediations.

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Comments

  1. Tiger Mountain says:

    The CTU acted promptly re organising the Sunday 18 Sky City event. Various activists meetings in main centres have been held and more are planned. Good. This will only be dealt with by organising and action, not waiting for the next election. Will this be one campaign where the union ‘centre’ and the activists can work together though?

    There can be few illusions about the current national CTU leadership, it is resolutely social democratic to a person, and prefers the electoral road. But some in it will well remember the long term damage done to the working class movement in 1990 and know that now a fork in the road has been reached, there is one last chance to redeem themselves. Several affiliate unions may not see it that way. Whatever, it is not possible to ‘positively engage’ with this government, and I was quite taken aback by two Workers Party articles a few months ago claiming that the Key administration was a different type of National Govt.

    There will be all the usual difficulties, I understand NZEI advised members not to attend the action yesterday because ‘they’ had not ‘decided a position’ yet. This is the sort of beauraucratic sabotage that led to the 1990 debacle when a mass movement of workers against the Emplyment Contracts Bill was ultimately confused and derailed by the NZCTU top leadership.

    It is pleasing that a national union secretary (DWU) made the statement at yesterdays rally about jobs taking action in support of new workers.

    The principle of independent worker militancy needs to be widely restored. If a few jobs can take industrial action-employing flexible tactics, it may help re-establish what was last commonplace in this country in the 1970s and 80s. It needs to be seen by NZ workers and communities as morally “OK to take industrial action” outside of the law. Bosses act outside the law everyday and get support from the state forces, cops, to boot.

    One issue is that the people initially hit by 90 day no rights have been at smaller non union sites. There are thousands of self employed and tinpot small businesses in this country-SMEs as they are called. There is a whole layer of people who are aspirational capitalists in world view, but under the thumb of finance capital in reality. Lots of workers too are subject to false consciousness and commodity fetishism, after a generation of neo liberalism. The thinking of such people has become a material force in our society and has to be taken into account. The changes Nact are imposing will also apply to various National supporters and non union workers. Even right wingers probably like the odd sick day off, attacks on which will be included with the moves on union access etc.

    I guess I am saying it is the time for some practical unity to be employed. The marxist left may have to tone down the (sellout dogs, class collaborators!) rhetoric a bit, to try and spark up and encourage others, as in reality the main shift has to come from the social democrats in terms of actually organising and engaging in direct action on this workers rights issue. ‘Work with and struggle against’ as an old saying goes.

  2. Don Franks says:

    ” it is not possible to ‘positively engage’ with this government, and I was quite taken aback by two Workers Party articles a few months ago claiming that the Key administration was a different type of National Govt.”

    Hi Tiger

    We’ve never argued that wortkers can “engage” with the present government. Our line on engagement with capitalist parties is one of consistent hostility, which is why we’ve spent a hell of a lot of time refuting CTU and others attempts to engage with Labour.
    Like the Labour government that preceded it, the present National government is a capitalist outfit through and through and its practice will reflect that. Capitalism is a flexible system and has no bottom line apart from the pursuit of maximum profit. Keys lot is different in many respects to the Holyoke and Muldoon governrments I grew up with. Time has moved on and adjustments have had to be made on such issues as Maori land claims and culture and Gay liberation to take just a couple of examples.
    There are two bad things about the latest industrial law changes. One; they will make organising harder and cause more misery for the lowest paid. Two, elements in the trade union movement will try to argue that salvation may be had via the next Labour government. That’s telling workers to disarm and have faith in the back stabbers instead of the front stabbers.

  3. Tiger Mountain says:

    Hi Don, sorry bad punctuation, a full stop was needed after “government” as there are two ideas expressed, “positive engagement” is a sarcastic reference to the language of KG Douglas and I did not intend to imply that the WP wants to cosy up to capitalists or their parliamentary representatives.

    But I did mean to question how the current govt. is different from previous National ones in your party’s view, because I had got the impression the WP was discounting the likely severity of attacks the Key government might make on workers. Thanks for answering. My view is workers have to organise independently, whatever govt holds office.

    • Philip Ferguson says:

      Hi Tiger,

      a lot of the left have a very crude view of the Nats. That’s what we have tried to counter.

      On the one hand, we’ve pointed out that the Nats are rather different from a Muldoon-style government in terms of a number of social/political issues (stuff Don mentioned above).

      In terms of economic stuff, we have said that the government wasn’t going to attack workers just because it was a National government and that there wasn’t any evidence that they intended a full-scale frontal attack on workers. The main problem in the economy, from a capitalist point of view, is relatively poor productivity and they’ve made pretty much all the gains they are likely to make through the method of making workers work harder and faster and now have to find ways of increasing investment in new plant, technology, research and development and so on. Screwing over workers more won’t actually help that.

      We also said that if the economic situation worsened, then all bets were off and they may well be forced to attack the class. So it wasn’t like we said they would never attack the working class in any major way. This is a capitalist government dedicated to managing and advancing the interests of capital.

      In the past few days National have floated a number of ideas, but they haven’t actually drawn up the legislation yet. If they do turn out to want to run a steamroller right over the working class and what’s left of the union movement then, clearly, we would have to revisit, rethink and likely revise some of what we have said about them. We’re committed to balance sheets of our work.

      We certainly have no vested interest in upholding an analysis if it is overtaken by events and/or proves to have underestimated the nature of this particular government in the first place.

      We’ve already started a discussion on this within the organisation.

      And whatever about what we have said re the Key government, and how that turns out, we are already stuck into campaigning against the proposed employment law changes.

  4. //But I did mean to question how the current govt. is different from previous National ones in your party’s view, because I had got the impression the WP was discounting the likely severity of attacks the Key government might make on workers. Thanks for answering. My view is workers have to organise independently, whatever govt holds office.//

    Tiger. That’s something we’re having a talk about within the Workers Party at the moment. The important thing to see with all this is that there are different currents within the National Party. The moderate arm of the Nats i.e. the less ideological arm who are primarily interested in power for power’s sake are stronger now than they have been in the past. The Nats are no a homogeneous unit and so you see a bit of jockeying policy-wise.
    In my opinion, Key so far has established a process of putting an idea out there and seeing the response and adjusting the outcome based on what he can get away with. This is a much different attitude to the Ruthanasia of the early 1990’s. Look at the mining issue for example. There a quite a few Nats who aren’t prepared to get chucked out for ideology’s sake. That is one lesson of their’s from the 1990’s and the reality now under MMP is that a 1990’s line would be much harder to carry…
    A big discussion going about on the Spark Discussion list [the open WP list that various leftists in and out of the WP subscribe and comment on, are you signed on this?] is concerning neo-liberalism. Both Tony Blair and Helen Clark presided over the entrenching of neo-liberalism in the UK and NZ respectively and nothing has changed if you look at how the recession was dealt with here. There was nothing I would describe as Neo-Keynesianism in practice.
    My view initially is that Key is feeling out the union movement. Within the Nats there is some rabid anti-unionism. If Key can get away with putting forward his 90 day law and cut down union access then I think he will. But if there is stiffened prolonged resistance I think he will pull back partially or fully and probe elsewhere for weakness in the working class.

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