MUNZ delegate: “Class war on the waterfront”

Day 1 of a 21-day strike

This article was written for The Spark by Michael Will who is a waterside worker and delegate for the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ).

The Unions of this country are being attacked at the moment, our freedom and rights as workers and human beings are being eroded by attacks by employers and the government.

No labour dispute has been played out in the media as much as the recent struggle between the Maritime Union of New Zealand and Ports of Auckland Ltd. The Maritime Union represents a number of workers involved in the wharf and Shipping industry. These workers have endured a lot of attacks in their history- notably the famous 1951 lockout where laws were passed to make it illegal to feed locked out workers and publish material to get the message to the Public.

The Ports of Auckland dispute began when bargaining failed to reach an agreement, as the Auckland City Council had demanded an increase in their dividend from 6% to 12% over the next five years. Considering that all other publicly owned Ports in the Australasian area operate at around 6% this was an unfair and unrealistic demand. The wharfies had offered to take a lower increase in wages for the retention of job security, and a roster system that gave them a balance between work and family life. CEO Tony Gibson has famously stated that “Unions need to realistic, family life just isn’t financially competitive”.

[Read more…]

Green Left Weekly: Wharfies beat lockout

This article by Workers Party member Joel Cosgrove originally appeared in Green Left Weekly.

In what has been described as New Zealand’s most high-profile and bitter industrial dispute since the early 1990s, waterside workers went back to work, after a four-week strike. Auckland’s port company agreed to end its lockout of 235 workers on March 30, and pay workers a week’s wages for being illegally locked out.

The New Zealand Herald reported that Maritime Union president Garry Parsloe told a huge workers’ meeting: “You’ll all go back to your jobs and until you go back you’ll all get paid.

“Everything we have done has fallen into place, thanks to your solidarity.” [Read more…]

Green Left Weekly: New Zealand workers fight casualisation

Service and Food Workers Union members at Ports of Auckland rally.

This article, by Workers Party member Joel Cosgrove, originally appeared in Green Left Weekly.

A number of high-profile industrial struggles are unfolding in New Zealand.

About 1500 aged care workers, members of the Service and Food Workers Union, are taking part in rolling strikes against a 1% pay rise offer. About 750 meat workers have been locked out by their employer AFFCO and about 1250 workers are involved in rolling stoppages in solidarity. Striking Auckland waterside workers are also into their fourth week on the picket line.

What links all these struggles are pay and conditions ― especially the fight against casualisation. [Read more…]

“Illegal” solidarity action necessary to challenge employer offensive

Patricks dispute, 1998

Ian Anderson

“Blacking,” or black-listing of cargo, has a long and proud history among wharfies. In 1998 during the Australian Patricks dispute, when the Australian government in concert with private contractors launched an offensive to casualise Australian ports, wharfies in Auckland black-listed a ship loaded by scab labour. This international solidarity was a key factor in undermining the employer offensive, a struggle which was in many ways similar to the current attack  by Ports of Auckland.

On the 2nd of March, port workers in Wellington refused to work a ship loaded by scabs in Auckland. On a rainy and dreary night, a community picket drew in support from various unions, with delegates from Unite calling off an event that night to show solidarity. CentrePort promptly got a court order demanding Wellington wharfies unload the ship. All ships loaded by scabs have also been black-listed in Australia.

Labour opposes the right to solidarity strikes.

In the February Spark, we noted how solidarity strikes are crucial in challenging the current employer offensive. Labour’s Employment Relations Act bans solidarity strikes, because they challenge a “secondary employer” such as Wellington’s CentrePort.  The International Labour Organisation notes how the right to strike underpins all other basic rights, such as the right to organise, the right to a living wage, and even wider community claims; the refusal by wharfies to work nuclear warships was a key factor in introducing our nuclear-free policy.

Both Labour and National oppose the unrestricted right to strike because it undermines the basis of their class power. This right is never given, always taken. Workers and progressives must fight for the unrestricted freedom to strike.

Solidarity around the country

Lyttelton picket

Kelly Pope

Support for the striking Ports of Auckland workers has been evident in Christchurch and across the country this last month. On the 7th of March port workers in Lyttelton refused to unload the ship the Lisa Schulte which had been worked on by non-union workers in Auckland, following similar action by Wellington and Tauranga port workers. Around a hundred and fifty workers planned to boycott the ship in solidarity with Auckland workers and did so until that night.

In response to the action by staff, Lyttelton Port Company filed for an injunction to prevent workers from continuing to boycott the ship and the case was heard on the day. As solidarity strikes remain illegal, the court ordered workers on the picket line to resume work unloading the ship or face penalties which could include fines and imprisonment.

Workers remained on the picket line while the court case was attended by union organisers. In the evening a group of around thirty people marched down Lyttelton’s main street to the wharves in a display of support for the port workers challenging the anti-strike laws and drawing attention to the struggles of Auckland workers.

While the group, including representatives from a number of unions and political activists, were at the wharves, Libby Carr, secretary of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union arrived from the court hearing. Though bringing the news of the ruling, she told those present that the workers would be heartened to hear of the support from the community and invited people to continue supporting the workers by attending the stopwork meeting for RMT and MUNZ union members the following day.

Report from the picket line

Mike Kay

Morale on the picket line remained strong on 20 March, despite the wet and wild weather. “We work out in this weather 24/7, so it’s no problem for us,” explained one wharfie. Another striker described how important the public support has been for them: “We had runners doing Round the Bays come past our picket line this weekend, and there were thousands of them clapping and cheering us. We also had players from the Bulldogs coming down to support us, although they weren’t allowed to wear any of their gears!”

Some politicians have been forced to get off the fence during the dispute: “We had Pita Sharples here the other day, giving everyone high fives. But [Auckland Mayor] Len Brown has been a big disappointment. He sat in on the last mediation we had with Ports of Auckland, but he said nothing.”

“Last Monday we put on a ‘hard picket’ which was effective. We kept it on just long enough to have the trucks backing up all down the road, just to send a message of the kind of disruption that is possible.”

Another high point was public demonstration on 10 March, with at least 5,000 people marching in support of the wharfies. The rally at the waterfront threatened to be a damp squib, with keynote speaker David Shearer delivering an underwhelming, stumbling speech that no doubt reflected his discomfort at addressing a group of staunch striking workers. Fortunately, the Maritime Union of Australia saved the day, with deputy national secretary Mick Doleman pledging: “We’ll be with you no matter how long it takes”.

Global union movement backs the Ports of Auckland workers

A powerful group of global unions which between them represent tens of millions of unionised workers, are now on ‘red alert’ over the treatment of workers in New Zealand that is being dramatically illustrated by disputes at the Ports of Auckland, Affco and the Oceania care company.

The warning was sounded last month by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), Public Services International (PSI), and the Council of Global Unions. [Read more…]

Auckland wharfies remain staunch

The mood on the picket line at the Ports of Auckland remains 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 I met 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.”

Over the last two days, the 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 has got their back.

This week has seen hundreds of AFFCO meat workers locked out, and their remaining union workmates walking out in solidarity, as well as Oceania aged care workers taking strike action. Most workers instinctively recognise that the Wharfies are currently on the front line of the class struggle in Aotearoa. More power to them!