Three clear points about the employment law proposals

By Spark reporter
The Spark September 2010
Resistance is beginning. Unions, the left, and advanced layers of workers have started campaigning against the employment law reform proposals which were announced by the National government in mid- July 2010. National’s proposals, if implemented, will impact on sick leave and annual leave provisions, union access to work sites, the ability of individuals to challenge unfair dismissals, and the possibility of challenging unfair dismissals at all within the first 90-days of an individual s employment in a new job. As a package, these changes will further shift the balance of power to the employers by driving down collective bargaining power. Essentially, the rate of exploitation of our class will be increased so as to resolve the recession and recovery in favour of the employers.

Unionists protesting the law changes

Permanent militancy and class struggle is required

Resistance to these changes can be built-up, but the working class and its organisations have clearly not been in shape to respond automatically. They are not in fighting shape and the reasons for this aren’t mystical.

One of the main lessons from this round of attacks is that working class organisations, such as unions and political organisations, must maintain a permanent class struggle position and constantly take initiatives against the employers and government. That has not been the case and we are presented with the objective impossibility of switching from the partnership model (accepting mass redundancies with only a few exceptions where fight-backs were attempted, entering into productivity initiatives with the bosses, entering job summits with the government) to a fighting model.

At another level, our unions cannot switch from the level of economistic day-to-day industrial servicing to broad political organising. It’s like going to sleep and then waking up on a battlefield with no troops. Unions have to constantly champion workers, poor, and the oppressed so that we have forces ready for when the attacks come. Positively, we are not without some pockets of class struggle and worker activism already existing in the field.

Attacks on workers rights are better able to be resisted and also are less likely to occur if workers organisations are taking aggressive initiatives. For example, if the campaign to hold a referendum on raising the minimum wage to $15 had been successful then the public political discourse would have shifted so that there would have been less room for theemployers/government to go on the offensive. They would have been back footed. But the majority of trade union leaders, and many activists at all levels, could not grasp the necessity of making aggressive initiatives, seemingly waiting for the next round of defence. Fundamentally, this is because they don’t understand that underlying contradictions between classes will always break through the fleeting phenomena of social peace and partnership.

This is about class relations, not about individual workers or companies

In order to really understand the nature of these attacks, we need to understand that siding with good employers against bad employers is not a sufficient as a strategy or public line. As stated, our position is that this is about class power. It isn’t about the National Party helping the scumbag employers. This legislation is connected to movements in the economy; again the employing class needs to restore and shore-up profits by imposing laws to further disempower the working class and limit its ability to organise.

The extension of 90-day probationary periods, for example, will deepen the the current labour market flexibility, making jobs more transient and making the organising of whole sectors less feasible, or at least much more difficult, and this will typically be within sectors which comprise a growing portion of the total labour market. The extension will allow increased victimisation and intimidation of workers who do want to organise.

While it is tactically useful to make examples of companies that have used the laws, and to publicise the stories of individual employees who have been
mistreated, the strategic level is about class relations; where people are situated – as classes – in relation to production. Wage levels and employment
rights are determined by the ability of workers to organise.

Labour and other capitalist parties cannot be part of the solution

Despite overseeing the largest transfer of wealth from working people to the ruling class in the 1980s, and despite increasing penalties against workers for
unlawful strike action through the Employment Relations Act (2000), and other such actions, the Labour Party is often referred to by unions as being pro-worker. The concepts of pro-worker government and anti-worker government are frequently referred to within the political perspectives of the trade union movement. However, no government which seeks to uphold the capitalist system of production is pro-worker. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class for the profit of the capitalist class. Therefore, logically, any pro-capitalist government is anti-worker.

Under Key s leadership the National Party has again shown itself to be more aggressive within the sphere of industrial relations, against workers and
unions, than is Labour. In fact, since the election of the Key government, Labour has sought to posture to the left even to the extent that Labour’s leader has openly backed publicly unpopular positions (i.e. opposition to 90-day law) in order to satisfy elements within trade unions.

From the understanding that Labour governments have actually been less openly pro-employer in regard to employment law, it does not follow that we should support Labour or see it as an entity that has any plan, programme, or desire to get workers outside of capitalism. There is more than one way to restrict workers’ liberty and activity. Supposedly pro-worker concessions from Labour, such as good faith principles, improved mediation services, reliance on personal grievances and so forth, added to tighter restrictions on strike action, have had the overall effect of restricting collective action  and therefore solidarity.

Fundamentally, Labour and other capitalist parties operate for the maintenance and service of capitalist production and class relations. This means that any slight gain or benefit secured by workers and unions is immediately retractable by any party including the Labour Party itself should the demand grow from the capitalist class which fundamentally holds state power.

Further, for a truly militant approach, we cannot assess political organisations by viewing their employment relations agenda as the full criteria for judgement; this would mean abandoning solidarity with oppressed sections of our society and also with the international working class, whom these bourgeois parties attack with bullets, the Afghan people being a current example.

In our resistance to this legislation, we argue for anti-capitalism; the long-term building of permanently militant unions and of anti-capitalist organisations.

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