An inspiring story of struggle by women workers

FILM REVIEW: Made in Dagenham

In 1968 three struggles by working class women in Britain helped inspire the formation of the women’s liberation movement there: Hull fishermen’s wives fought for better safety on trawlers, despite being told by the bosses to keep quiet; London bus conductresses rebelled for the right to become drivers; and women machinists at the Ford motor company’s giant plant at Dagenham went on strike for equal pay.

The Ford women’s strike led to the National Joint Action Committee on Women’s Equal Rights, a union-based group focussed on equal pay and women’s rights at work.

Over four decades later, the Ford strike has been dramatised, and partly fictionalised, as a film: Made in Dagenham, directed by Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls), produced by Steven Woolley (The Crying Game, Scandal, Interview with the Vampire) and  partner Elizabeth Karlsen (The Crying Game, Hollow Reed, Sounds like Teen Spirit), written by Billy Ivory, who wrote for TV series such as Minder and Common as Muck, and starring Sally Hawkins as strike leader Rita, Daniel Mays as her husband Eddie and Bob Hoskins as Albert, the shop steward for their area.  The theme song is sung by 60s British pop star Sandie Shaw, a former Fords Dagenham punch-card operator (albeit several years before the 1968 strike). [Read more…]

Vote Matt McCarten for Mana

Workers Party leaflet

The Workers Party is backing Matt McCarten in the Mana By Election because he’s a genuine working class fighter.

Matt McCarten, leader of Unite union, has hands-on experience promoting workers’ rights. That is a rare thing in politics these days, where parliament is awash with bland, middle-class liberals.

Since founding Unite union in 2003 Matt has been a prominent figure in campaigns for low paid casualised workers. He has shown an absolute commitment to that cause. [Read more…]

Why unions should not be affiliated to the NZ Labour Party

The Spark November 2010

This is a follow-up to the article in the last issue of The Spark where we welcomed the decision of the Victorian Electrical Trades Union to disaffiliate from the Australian Labour Party. This article looks at the problem of union affiliation to the NZ Labour Party; it is drawn mainly from our pamphlet, Labour: a bosses’ party.

Before the fourth Labour government, much of the blue-collar union movement was affiliated to the Labour Party. Since then however, very few unions have remained affiliated. The two main unions keeping the formal ties to Labour are the EPMU (Engineering, Printing, Manufacturing Union) and the SFWU (Service and Food Workers Union). In recent years, in particular since the collapse of the left social-democratic Alliance Party, several small unions (Rail and Maritime Transport, Dairy Workers and Maritime Union) have reaffiliated.

NORMAN KIRK : 6 February 1973

The main argument put forward by union leaders supporting affiliation is basically that it is better to be in the tent exerting influence on Labour policy than outside it simply opposing policy.

However, this argument is deeply flawed, as can be seen by looking at the actual history of union involvement in the Labour Party.

In 1918 there were 72 affiliated unions and just 11 party branches. In the 1919 general election, nine Labour candidates won seats, eight of them being active unionists. In 1938 three quarters of all union members were affiliated to the Labour Party; by 1971 it had fallen to just one half. [Read more…]

Union activist talks about his year in the Philippines

The Spark November 2010

The New Zealand Government has just listed the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army as terrorist organisations. The Spark talks to trade unionist, Luke Coxon, who has just spent a year in the Philippines.

Spark: Luke you took a year off work to do voluntary work in the Philippines. What drew you there?

Luke Coxon: I first went to the Philippines as a student activist in 1996. It really shaped my political outlook. Back then I already considered myself Marxist, but I was so inspired by the living movement in the Philippines that it left a lasting impression. I always wanted to go back and in 2007 was part of a fact finding group looking into human rights abuses there. I decided then to go back and volunteer for the KMU, the militant trade union federation.

Nestle picket

[Read more…]

Hobbit hysteria bill

Today the government is rushing through a law change designed to stymie film workers’ attempts to bargain collectively.

Under the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill  workers employed in film production work will by default be ‘independent contractors’ rather than employees. This will prevent them bargaining collectively as prescribed under the ERA. It also means they can’t legally take strike action as that is outlawed under the ERA except when bargaining for a collective agreement. Film workers will be deemed to be contractors running their own businesses. [Read more…]

Great article on the Hobbit dispute

Herald columnist Brian Rudman’s article on the Hobbit dispute is one of the best written on the subject.

He manages to capture every aspect of this dispute – the anti-union stuff, the spoilt brat Jackson, the toadying and grovelling part of the NZ national character, the feudal-like carry-on, and the patronising sexism towards Malcolm and Ward-Lealand.

Read his article

Also worth checking out is Ian Mune’s interview on Breakfast TV

Matt McCarten for Mana

Matt McCarten, leader of Unite union, has announced today he’s standing in the Mana (Wellington) by-election.

Formerly the Alliance party president, Matt has plenty of experience in running electoral campaigns. But his real strength lies in his hands-on experience in fighting for workers’ rights. That is a rare thing in politics these days, where parliament is awash with bland, middle-class liberals.

Since founding Unite union in 2003 Matt McCarten has been a prominent figure in the union’s campaigns for low paid casualised workers. He has shown an absolute commitment to building a new movement for workers.

He is running as an independent, endorsed by the Executive of the union.

As well as hammering home the message that the minimum wage needs to be lifted to $15 an hour, Matt can be expected to put the heat on Labour, a workers party in name only.

Kiwis are birds mate!

Militant unionism and patriotism have never really got on. Film maker Peter Jackson concluded his Labour Day attack on unions with the claim:

“Turning us into another state of Australia under the sway of a destructive organisation carries the very real risk of destroying the great big heart that beats inside our films. I believe the Kiwi way of doing things should be protected and celebrated.”

A Socialist Aotearoa website piece appearing the same day suggested the exact opposite:

“Labour day 2010, we are actually in the midst of a vast upsurge in working class activity” Socialist Aotearoa described unionist Robyn Malcolm’s defence of Equity as “typical Kiwi sentiment.”

Socialist Aotearoa’s article is the latest in a series of recent far left attempts to legitimize their wares as some sort of genuine Kiwiana.

Socialist Worker organizer Grant Morgan described his contingent’s entry into Gaza as, “a fantastic victory, and all Kiwis who care about a fair go for all will be proud that our own Kia Ora Gaza team is part of this humanitarian breakthrough.”

Socialist Worker Tax Justice campaign coordinator Vaughan Gunson, said, “For most Kiwis it’s immoral that food should be made more expensive by a tax.”

Traditionally, self described caring Kiwis seeking a fair go have come from the right.  Like the 1981 Auckland anti union “Kiwis Care” march. Or, more recently, John Key’s 2007 State of the Nation speech:

“I want to talk about what I consider to be an important part of The Kiwi Way”, John began. “Part of The Kiwi Way is a belief in opportunity and in giving people a fair go. We want all kids to have a genuine opportunity to use their talents and to get rewarded for their efforts. That’s The Kiwi Way, and I believe in it.” [Read more…]

Workers Party statement on the Hobbit dispute

An actors’ union attempt to negotiate better work conditions has sparked the most heated class struggle in recent memory.

The workers’ initial claims were modest.

Robyn Malcolm standing up for workers' rights

As the latest Actors Equity newsletter puts it, the union:

… has been working to improve performers’ terms and conditions in the screen industry for some time now. We have tried a number of avenues, including: approaches to SPADA (Screen Producers’ and Development Association) to negotiate a standard industry agreement; seeking to negotiate directly on individual projects with production companies (e.g. Outrageous Fortune); and harnessing our relationships with international fellow unions to elevate conditions for all New Zealand performers (e.g. The Hobbit).

For a number of reasons some of these approaches have not delivered our goals. Our experience shows that the existing guidelines for the engagement of performers in the screen industry (“The Pink Book”) are rarely complied with in their entirety, and performers have been unable to insist on such compliance. Individual approaches to productions have also been problematic, and can only work when performers on the production have sufficient leverage. Our attempts to date have met with fierce resistance from production companies and made the legitimate desire of performers to negotiate together a high-risk strategy.

Because talk didn’t deliver any improvements for their members, the union used the only strategy remaining to it and took action.

A month ago, in collaboration with Australian entertainment unions, Equity issued a do-not-work order, refusing work on The Hobbit without a union-negotiated contract.

Backed up by a violent storm of anti union agitation from the government and the capitalist media, the film’s producers refused to negotiate, saying the actors would need to talk to the national producers’ body, SPADA. Actors Equity and SPADA met last week and withdrew the do-not-work order.

The response of the right was to put the boot in harder. [Read more…]

The Hobbit union witch hunt

In the next issue of The Spark we’ll have an article about the Hobbit dispute. In the meantime, here are some comments from The Spark and Workers Party discussion groups over the past week.

Bring back slavery

The Hobbit union witch hunt continues apace, now with the threat of new anti worker laws. We used to get stick for launching big strikes, now we get it for threats that don’t get carried through.

I think Equity was too quick to hitch a ride on international union muscle, underestimating the opposition, insufficient preparation and also not considering the reaction of the tech workers and other workers who might be affected.

Hindsight is always easy and I don’t rush to blame Equity. On a smaller scale I’ve made similar hasty union moves and come to grief. The actors union had good intentions to redress a hell of a lot of injustice – injustice which still stands.

[Read more…]