Migrants are welcome – Leftist xenophobia is not

refugees-migrants-welcome-here

By Daphne Lawless

When I was a young Alliance activist in Wellington in the 1990s, I knew Frank Macskasy well as a staunch colleague in the fight against the neoliberal assault on workers. It’s very sad to see him now promoting the xenophobic agenda of Martyn Bradbury’s The Daily Blog, known as the “Breitbart of the NZ Left”.

TDB is part of the current which I’ve called the “conservative left” – those activists who have taken a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude to the rise of Right-wing populism worldwide, including the Brexit movement in Britain and the Trump movement in the US. I’ve argued that many activists, having spent so long fighting neoliberal globalization, have ended up in a position where they think that anything neoliberals want must be bad. Most unfortunately – in the NZ context – this has turned into a belief that since neoliberals want more immigration, the Left should want less.

Frank’s TDB post harps on the idea that the National government is encouraging immigration as an easy way to “artificially stimulate the economy” (an argument heard recently out of the mouth of New Zealand’s master of xenophobic politics, Winston Peters). The first obvious question should be: if it were that simple to grow the economy, what would be wrong with it? What is wrong in principle to allow anyone willing to come here, work hard and be part of our community to do so? In particular, no Pākehā New Zealander should have the bald-faced cheek to suggest that migration to this country should be treated with suspicion.

Frank skates over the contradiction between the idea that immigration “stimulates the economy” and the idea that it’s problematic “at a time when unemployment was still high.” A stimulated economy means more work available… right? Leaving aside this little problem, Frank goes on:

“The downside to high immigration has been to put strain on critical services such as roading and housing, and reduce demand for locally trained workers to fill vacancies. There is a downward pressure on wages, as cheaper immigrant-labour is brought into the workforce.”

Both Frank’s links go to NZ Herald articles. The first is a column concerning the last Budget, which contains the comment:

“The rise in net migration, on top of natural increases, is putting pressure on the health system, schools, housing and transport.”

I’ve underlined the bit that Frank seems to have missed out. The issue is that population growth is putting pressure on our infrastructure. In Auckland in particular – despite the scare stories from the xenophobic Left and Right – “natural increase” (that is, people having babies and not dying) is a significantly greater contribution to population growth than migration. So where is Frank’s worry about that section of population growth? Why is he not calling for a Chinese-style one-child policy, if the issue is really just about “more people” – rather than the murkier issue of “more people not born here”?

Frank’s second link goes to a report on advice given by Treasury – not generally considered a reliable source of good economic advice by Leftists (except when it confirms their prejudices?) There is of course a real problem with cheap migrant labour. But it’s nothing to do with “New Zealanders being priced out of low-waged jobs”. Firstly, just like it’s always been in this country, migrants tend to do the low-status jobs that New Zealanders don’t want to do – fast food workers or security guards, who might be qualified professionals in their own country, can tell you about that. Secondly, the reason migrant labour is cheap is because of employers cheating the system. We’re talking about migrants having their passports confiscated, and forced either into virtual slave labour, or work of a kind they never wanted to do (such as sex work).

These are real problems. But they are not problems caused by migration. It is caused by migrant workers not getting a fair shake on the basis as all other workers in this country. Get rid of the incentive for human trafficking provided by the current immigration scheme – by giving all those who want to work here the legal right to do so, cracking down on unfair labour practices, and encouraging migrant workers to join unions and fight alongside all other workers for their rights.

Frank and his colleagues at TDB are irresponsibly stoking the forces of racism and xenophobia in this country. Some may be doing so out of nostalgia for a simpler, less culturally diverse New Zealand of the pre-neoliberal era. Some may be doing so out of cynical calculation that migrant-bashing is a way to defeat the hated National government. But it’s a slowly growing sickness on the Left in New Zealand. The Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign has been set up by socialists, unionists and migrant communities who want to stand up and say unashamedly that we are pro-immigration, and pro-worker, and we can’t allow the conservative left to speak for the rest of us.

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Exclusive: Redundancies at Mystery Morrison’s latest company

morrison 2

Fightback previously reported on redundancies at council-funded Wellington company CallActive, managed by John Morrison.

This week, Morrison’s new company Plus64 Connect is reportedly undergoing a new series of redundancies. This mass shedding of staff particularly relates to TrustPower contracts. Plus64Connect hasn’t folded, however with limited contracts this is still a risk.

TrustPower is a NZ-owned company (like Plus64 Connect), however as with any business, money is the bottom line. No companies run for profit serve the interests of local workers.

A number of Plus64 employees were previously employed by Morrison’s CallActive. Staff are reportedly glum, applying for new jobs, some having only been employed very briefly.

This kind of insecurity is very common in call centre work. You’re only secure if you have competent management – which is really hard to come by in a call centre. The focus is on numbers of calls, rather than quality – as obviously this means more money for the company (in an outsourced setting anyway). If you are lucky enough to land a full time position, only the bare minimum of entitlements are offered. Therefore the only difference between fulltime work, and a zero hour contract is two weeks’ notice. As outsourced clients come and go, you are never secure in your position.

Call centre workers slave long hours, are expected to be available at the drop of a hat, and customers don’t treat you like a human being so much as a punching-bag.

There is no incentive for businesses to provide security, unless threatened by legal or collective action. If workers coordinate and organise across the sector, they can gain more control of their work conditions.

See also

Mystery Morrison: The face of capitalist ‘local ownership’

John Morrison (left) at the opening of CallActive.

John Morrison (left) at the opening of CallActive.

By Ian Anderson (Fightback Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington)

Meet John Morrison, also known as ‘Mystery Morrison.’ With his moustache, strong eyebrows, and sports background, Morrison has the bona fides of a Pākehā, Kiwi bloke. He’s the sort of guy you could have a beer with, assuming you’re also the sort of person he would have a beer with (John Key, perhaps). In a word, he is ‘local’ – or, as ‘local’ as any non-indigenous person can be.

Morrison is also a capitalist, a business-owner. He began his career as a cricketer, earning the nickname ‘Mystery Morrison’ for his bowling style. While he was marginally successful at cricket, Morrison’s career since then – as a Wellington City Councillor, failed mayoral candidate, and now call-centre owner – has been more controversial. In an attempt to defend a comment that he’d like to join the women’s cricket team in the showers, Morrison reportedly commented at a candidate’s meeting:

“[I can’t] help it if the women’s team find me irresistible. After all, I’m a former international cricketer who’s so mysterious nobody, not even me, knows why I’m called ‘Mystery’ Morrison. I’m kind of a big deal.”

After his transparent sexism failed to win over Wellington’s voters, this man of mystery moved into the call-centre business. As reported on Stuff1, the timeline of Morrison’s involvement with CallActive is certainly mysterious:

TIMELINE

  • CallActive was incorporated in New Zealand on June 26, 2013 [with a $30,000 loan from the city council, approved by a board featuring none other than John Morrison.]
  • On November 13, 2013, it was announced that John Morrison had joined its business development team.
  • Morrison stopped working for the company [in 2015], before it shut down.
  • On November 12, 2015, the registrar of companies gave public notice of her intention to remove CallActive from the companies’ register.
  • On November 26, John Morrison and David Lloyd incorporated their own company, Plus64Connect, which was listed as a call-centre operation.
  • On November 27, CallActive staff say about 60 workers were left devastated when the Australian-owned call-centre operator folded.

Although many of these actions are strictly speaking legal, they also have a whiff of corruption. Morrison approved council funding for a business; worked as a manager for that business; left the business, and registered a new one a day before the first collapsed. Whatever happened at CallActive that triggered Morrison’s departure and the company’s collapse, it seems hard to avoid the convenience of Morrison’s decisions, and the lack of responsibility he took for their consequences. Morrison apparently knew what was coming months before most of the staff.

Morrison’s call-centres are in many respects typical of contemporary capitalism in the imperialist core. A growing service sector; precarious work conditions and declining real wages; networked communication, allowing greater flexibility. Call-centres contract to various industries, often internationally, with the workers often having little or nothing to do with the original company, and therefore facing abuse from weary customers.

Precarious work is often associated with dynamic, flexible arrangements that suit new information technology. However, precarity isn’t somehow necessary to the nature of any work – while construction workers lead precarious existences as contractors in Aotearoa / New Zealand, in Australia they are highly unionised with secure and well-paid work. Rather than being a function of technology, precarity is about power, specifically the power of bosses over workers.

John Morrison’s progression from CallActive to his new company typifies this side of precarity: the way economic insecurity fosters fear, division, coercing workers to compete, rather than struggling collectively. Morrison ‘allowed’ CallActive workers to apply for work at his new business. Considering the reduced staff, this amounts to forcing recently dispossessed workers to compete with each other for a shrinking pool of work. Morrison’s new company reportedly uses zero-hour contracts.

Some have characterised this strange sequence of events as a problem of ‘foreign ownership’, as CallActive was Australian owned. Yet while Morrison admittedly helped an Australian corporation take advantage of this country’s low wage economy, when that fell through he took advantage of the low wage economy for his own benefit. The shift from Australian to local ownership did nothing for the conditions of call-centre workers, only benefiting the owners, both Kiwis. Morrison demonstrates that local (capitalist) ownership is no guarantee of security or basic rights. Of course, not all capitalists fit Morrison’s exact profile, but that is precisely the point: capitalists must exploit for profit, regardless of gender, colour or nationality. Neoliberalism is not just an international system imposed on nation states: it is a project of the capitalist class, local and international.

Exploitation and oppression inevitably breed resistance. On hearing of their redundancy, CallActive staff reportedly walked out with laptops and company televisions. This is considered theft; however, it pales in comparison to the theft carried out by capitalist businesses. These atomised forms of resistance can change the world if fused collectively. In Auckland, Unite Union has made some inroads in organizing call-centre workers. Rather than local private ownership, we need collective self-organization, self-determination and socialism – which will mean taking power from people like John Morrison.

ANZ workers strike

secure hours ANZ courtenay place

ANZ workers across Aotearoa/NZ (members of FIRST Union) went on strike today, for secure hours and better wages.

ANZ rat frank kitts
ANZ indebts customers and undermines staff, while CEO David Hisco makes over $2000/hr.

ANZ Hisco rat

With more attacks on unions, workers and beneficiaries on the way, collective action like this is exactly what we need. Kia kaha!

See also

MANA and Industrial Relations: “Between equal rights, force decides”

MANA at a 2013 McStrike against zero-hour contracts and poverty wages.

MANA at a 2013 McStrike against zero-hour contracts and poverty wages.

Fightback participates in the MANA Movement, whose stated mission is to bring “rangatiratanga to the poor, the powerless and the dispossessed.” Capitalism was imposed in Aotearoa through colonisation, and the fight for indigenous self-determination is intimately connected with the fight for an egalitarian society.

Leading up to the election, we will be examining the major policies that have been developed within MANA over the last three years. As members of MANA we have been a part of the critical (and some times heated) discussions at branch, rohe and national levels, discussing what these policy areas mean as well as what is needed to bring about these radical changes.

This article by Joel Cosgrove (Fightback) examines MANA’s Industrial Relations policy in relation to wider struggles.

Industrial relations are an essential area of struggle. The workplace – the “point of production”  (the space where decisions about what is produced are made) is a primary site of struggle between workers and bosses. The right to strike, the right to organize and the right to associate have been resisted by bosses and their organisations and fought for by workers.

Youth rates, (low) minimum wages and the gender pay gap, are all structural tools that drag down wages as a whole.

Anyone who has worked in the jobs that generally pay youth rates (supermarkets, fast food, retail etc) knows that the work done, whether by a 17 year old or a 19 year old, is no different. Historically it used to be argued that women couldn’t work as hard as men, or do jobs that involved complicated thinking. The point of these claims is an attempt to undermine our pay rates.

Even when the working class is successful in winning gains, the bosses will constantly try to claw them back. Currently in Australia, weekend work is paid out at time and a half (150% of normal pay) and the Abbot government are trying to undermine that by drawing it down to time and a quarter (125%) Restaurant & Catering Australia CEO John Hart has been quoted as saying:

“The industry will most likely save about $112 million each year – with this decision ensuring the industry continues to push for further penalty rate reforms under the Fair Work Commission four- yearly review of Modern Awards.”

Of course, NZ workers have already lost penalty rates for working weekends or after hours.

The battle between workers and bosses is a battle for the profit created through the work of workers and it is at this point, over the pay and conditions that bosses are forced to pay, that the struggle is fiercest.

This is why MANA’s policies around ending the 90 day trial period, youth rates and extending paid parental leave to one year are important elements in a fightback. Supporting gender pay and employment equity is another important aspect of this policy, with the case of Kristine Bartlett’s claim that caregivers (made up of 92% women) being paid at just above the minimum wage demonstrates a gender bias against women currently going through the Court of Appeal.

Aotearoa is a nation framed by overwork or underwork. On average according to the OECD, New Zealanders work 1,762 hours a year compared to places like Germany and Netherlands who work 1,397 and 1,381 hours per year respectively. When you compare the average wages of the respective countries you find that Germans earn $US30,721; the Dutch $US25,697; and New Zealanders $US21,773. Yet polling company Roy Morgan reportthe unemployment rate as being 8.5% (compared to an official rate of 6%), with a further 11.3% under-employed. Collectively, 19.8% of the workforce ( or around 519,000 people) were are either unemployed or under-employed.

British think tank New Economics Foundation has outlined a plan where the average working week is 21 hours a week, almost halving hours worked, while maintaining wages through increased taxation and a number of other measures. The question remaining is how this political change would actually be brought about. As Eco-socialist Ian Angus says, change will not happen just because it is the right thing to do.

Mana’s policies around this area include initially strengthening a return to a 40 hour week and restoring penal rates for those working for over 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day;  increasing sick days from five to ten; and bringing in a minimum redundancy payment of six weeks’ pay for the first year of employment and two weeks’ pay for each subsequent year of employment. The initial aim of these reforms is to make it more expensive for employers to make workers bear the brunt of any changes they make. Employers in Aotearoa have a history of exacting cuts in pay and conditions of employees to increase their rate of profit. Unite Union head Mike Treen has pointed to workers’ productivity increasing by 83% while real wages (inflation adjusted) fell by 25%. This is the result of weak defences of workers’ conditions around hours and penal rates.

Competition between companies over the past few decades has centred on who can cut workers’ pay and conditions the most. In the past industry conditions (or awards) set out minimum conditions and pay that in part functioned to undermine the ability to cut them – the minimum wage is an example of this in action. This is another area covered in MANA’s policy, setting out industry awards/minimum conditions as well as making sure that workers performing any outsourced government services are not employed in worse conditions than those in government, something which is currently endemic with cleaners’ contracts.

As good as these various policies are, they rely on the workers to uphold and push them forward, and to punish employers who break them. The right to strike is central to this. Workers en masse downing tools and stopping production cuts to the chase and forces the issue. The right to strike has been progressively cut back over the years, until in almost all situations it is illegal to strike. MANA policy puts forward “the right to strike for workers to enforce their contact and on any significant political, economic, cultural and environmental issues.”  MANA policy extends the right to strike to these issues but also gives an example of “workers for Fisher and Paykel in New Zealand taking action in support of Fisher and Paykel employees in Thailand”, an important aspect of internationalism demonstrated by the worldwide protests around the world recently in May against McDonalds’ global anti-worker policies.

Yet it was Karl Marx who said “between two equal rights, force is the arbiter”, namely the right of employers to legally undermine workers conditions and workers fight for improved conditions.  For example, from 1990 to 1999 the minimum wage moved from $6.13 to $7.00 and from 2000-2009 the minimum wage increased from $7.00 to $12.50. That the National party (who increased it in the 90’s by 87 cents) have increased the minimum wage since 2008 by $1.75 is something worth investigating further. The difference is the mass struggle that was waged in the 00’s, particularly by Unite Union, which forced the political situation to change – to the point where the National party felt they had to increase the minimum wage each year (in the face of opposition from their own supporters).

What we can see from all this is that these rights are not given, they’re fought for.  MANA might have an excellent industrial policy, but actually bringing this about will be a massive struggle. There are already examples that show how struggle can be waged to win these conditions. We need to learn from them and develop new and creative ways to push forward the fight for a fairer and egalitarian society that benefits the many and not the few.

New Zealand’s Union Movement: A socialist perspective

maritime march

By Committee for a Workers’ International. Abridged version of a full perspectives document to be found here.

New Zealand employers are seeking to maintain their profits by increasing productivity. In most cases this means people working harder and faster for less money and fewer conditions. Very little is being invested by employers into research and development.

For example, in 2011 only 17% of businesses with 100 or more employees invested in research and development (R&D). Of the businesses with 50-99 employees only 13% of businesses invested, while just 10% of businesses with 20-49 employees put funds towards R&D. New Zealand employers prefer to continue their efforts intensifying the exploitation of the working class.

Since the onset of the crisis, employers lobbied the National government for industrial law changes which have been passed, including the implementation of 90-day work trial periods without rights to grievances for unjustified dismissal, the narrowing of the interpretation of unjustified dismissal, and the narrowing of prospects for reinstatement where a dismissal is held to be unjustified. Such measures are designed to make labour more flexible for employers and to further discipline working people for the employers’ needs.

Other changes, such as enabling the employer to require a medical certificate for only one day of sick leave (previously employers were only able to require proof on the third consecutive day), have the stated aim of improving productivity. They are also about increasing employer control over the workforce.

A range of changes have encroached more directly on union rights such as the tightening up of union right of entry to workplaces. This is now only with the permission of the employer and the burden placed on unions to prove an employer is being unreasonable by denying access.

The reintroduction of youth rates – “starting out” rates – will not impact on worksites where unions, notably Unite and FIRST Union, have written youth wages out of union agreements but it will increase the exploitation of thousands of young workers in unorganised workplaces.

The government also changed the review process for the adult minimum wage by limiting consultation to only the Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand. It has narrowed the factors that should be considered in the annual reviews by excluding social factors and wage relativity factors.

This is an attempt to send a clear message out against sections of the union movement, like Unite Union and the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU), which have run Living Wage campaigns. Firstly Unite ran a campaign to have the minimum wage to be indexed at 2/3rds of the average wage, with an immediate increase to $15 per hour. Next, the SFWU has lead a public campaign which has got traction for a living wage which would allow for a decent standard of living and the ability for ordinary people to properly participate in their communities.

Due to the pressure of these campaigns both Labour and the Greens have accepted the need for a $15 minimum wage. If they do come to power in 2014 the claim for $15 which Unite pushed in the 2009 to 2010 period will be less relevant. Workers have moved on from the $15 per hour demand and organised low paid workers are now looking for considerably more.

If Labour and the Greens take power they may make some minor changes to the minimum wage, but against the backdrop of a fragile economic situation they will be under intense pressure from employers to ensure these changes are mere window dressing and that there are various factors that would allow employers to opt out. The only way a real living wage will be won will be via a union-led industrial campaign.

At an institutional level, the government has made the major change of merging the Department of Labour, the Department of Building and Housing, the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Ministry of Economic Development into one Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment. This has set the tone for the function of the former Department of Labour to become more business orientated with the stated aim that “The purpose of MBIE is to be a catalyst for a high-performing economy to ensure New Zealand’s lasting prosperity and wellbeing…. We are working to support the government’s Business Growth Agenda.” The false idea of the prosperity of business being synonymous with lasting prosperity has been pushed by this government. But there has been no increased prosperity for ordinary people.

Lastly, the government is now in the process of passing legislation that will enable employers to declare that bargaining is frustrated and they will not be required to conclude bargaining. This is essentially removing the right of workers to a collective agreement. The International Labor Organisation (ILO) says the proposed legislation would contravene their principles. There has been a huge amount of union submissions so far, but the government announced in December 2013 that it is proceeding to the second reading regardless.

The trade union response to legislation changes

The main form of opposition to the changes has consisted of public rallies held after work hours, stopwork meetings, and legal action to secure the best possible interpretations of the changes. On some occasions union leaders made bold statements about mounting a more serious opposition, in 2010 for example one union leader said there would be “chaos in the factories” if the extension of the 90-day legislation to all workplaces came to pass. Unfortunately this sentiment was short-lived and the leaderships continue to be conservative on the question of strikes.

Clearly these new laws need to be challenged with industrial action. Public rallies held after hours and brief stop work meetings do not sufficiently impact on the employers profits and should be seen at best as a starting point to build towards more generalised forms of strike action. The role of socialists is to establish an organisation with the type of authority in the working class from which we can competently argue such basics.

The problem is not one of union resources or worker apathy. The problem is political, that unions have in large part become wedded to pro-market and capitalist ideas. The attachment of some unions to the Labour Party, which proposes no economic alternative to neo-liberalism, means that those unions don’t fight for a fundamental alternative to the system either. Without being tied to Labour’s politics, and by linking with other fighting organisations, these unions could play an exciting part in producing deep social change.

An increasing number of union and left activists have become de facto apologists for the conservative perspective in the bureaucracy by arguing that the economic conditions are not right for strikes or that there is not the right attitude amongst workers. Others say there are too few resources or not the right information. The truth is that most unions have plenty of resources and most workers respond well to campaigns that will improve their work conditions and living standards. The problem is purely political.

The bulk of union leaders today do not adhere to an alternative to capitalism. Such an alternative is the only thing that can provide relief and the necessary changes for working people.

What we need most is a new type of politics to dominate the union movement. This means a return to socialist ideas which provide a genuine political and economic alternative to the profit driven system. When people have a vision for a better type of society this translates into a more fighting attitude on the ground.

Therefore the task of rebuilding the union movement along fighting lines will be best done in combination with the tasks of building a serious socialist political organisation as well as a new workers party that can challenge Labour’s grip. These ideas will get the best reception from those who have the most to gain – the union rank and file.

Bosses seeking to undermine traditional sectors

During the last upturn, the employers sought to increase profitability by placing emphasis on increasing absolute surplus value. For example, in 2004 workers in New Zealand were working longer hours than in any OECD country except Japan. In more recent times however employers are now seeking to increase surplus value by further rationalising and flexibilising the labour process.

In particular, the employers in the traditionally unionised sectors want access to the flexibility and casualisation that exists in other sectors. This is what was behind the 2012 attacks on the conditions of meat workers throughout the country. It is also what is behind the attacks on port workers in Auckland – an ongoing situation where there is currently something of a stalemate.

The link between profitability and the recent attacks on meat workers shows the way in which the employers want to offload their profit woes on to workers. Beef and sheep still account for over 15% of New Zealand exports. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has stated that there have been profitability difficulties in the industry since at least 2009. In fact profitability issues for the meat sector go back decades, hence the decline in beef and sheep farming and exports.

The locking out of over 100 CMP company meat workers in the Manawatu area from late October 2011 to late December 2012 was followed by the locking out of over 800 AFFCO workers in several meat processing plants for more than three months in 2012. The lockouts represented a new level of employer hostility in that the lockouts weren’t started as retaliation to union-led industrial activity but were started to attempt to force union workers to accept deep cutbacks.

Talleys purchased the AFFCO plants in 2011 and were demanding more flexibility in the workplace. The company’s demand for greater flexibility was connected to its requirement for more control over the workplace. Greater flexibility is then imposed and used to increase exploitation and therefore squeeze more profits out of the workforce.

Many AFFCO plants are now antiquated. Instead of resolving efficiency problems through investing in plant and machinery to create state of the art workplaces, New Zealand capitalists have focussed on making the workforce leaner, making it work harder and faster.

At the Ports of Auckland Limited the employer attacks against the wharfies (stevedores), including lockouts, have been fundamentally about trying to reduce the conditions and power of workers in traditional union jobs and force them down to the flexibilised conditions of the broader workforce in New Zealand.

A TV report about the dispute, in January 2012, said that “Businesses say it’s a battle between old and new work practices” and Kim Campbell of the Employers and Manufacturers Association said, “I think it’s do or die personally, and that really is a serious matter.” The Auckland ports director told TV3 News that “Our singular focus is on addressing old-fashioned workplace practices that are a handbrake on flexibility and productivity.”

Essentially employers are now going after core industrial workers in an attempt to make those workers subject to the neo-liberal workplace conditions of job insecurity, work insecurity (less guaranteed hours of work), income insecurity, individualisation of bonuses and benefits and other elements of the neo-liberal work environment. When other parts of the workforce are unorganised and working in these conditions then the core workforce is more vulnerable to the types of attacks that are happening now.

In the stalemate at the Ports of Auckland the Maritime Union employment agreement has expired and the employer has attempted to gain traction for a scab union. This dispute needs to be seen as a wake-up call to the union movement. A setback for one of the most well paid and highly organised sections of the working class is a setback for all workers.

Service sector workers struggle for income security and job security

Care workers have also been struggling over the last two to three years with strike action taking place at the workplaces one of the country’s largest rest home companies. Additionally, in this period, the Service and Food Workers union has won an important legal decision which held that overnight stays must be compensated at the minimum wage. Unite Union has continued to progress and build amongst fast-food and cinema workers, and this included a long round of strikes and other actions at McDonald’s outlets throughout the country. As always the key demands of Unite members have been around secure work and guaranteed hours.

Key slogans for the workers movement

Service sector struggles are connected with the struggles of workers in traditional union jobs. The service sector campaigns are generally offensive campaigns against already existing casualisation and flexibilisation. The struggles at the ports and in the meat works were defensive struggles against casualisation and flexibilisation which the bosses have sought to impose.

In order to unify the struggles of the working class over the next period unions should adopt a general slogan along the lines of “Secure Work, Secure Hours, Living Wage”. Joint industrial action, across sectors, should be organised. This type of campaign would be the best way to win improvements to the minimum wage and give workers the confidence to challenge the existing anti-worker laws.

Industrial tactics

A feature of some industrial disputes of late has been the unwillingness of union leaders to blockade or put ‘hard’ pickets on workplace entrances to defend against scabs and to stop the supply chain. This is a concerning trend apparent during a number of recent disputes. There have been some situations where there has been a systematic allowance of scabs through the gates and the normal operations and supply have continued.

This is dramatically different to only seven and a half years ago when, in the National Distribution Union versus Progressive Enterprises dispute, key warehouses were systematically blockaded and flying pickets were established to stop the operation of make-shift dispatch centres with force. Similar tactics were used by other unions at the time. Socialists must fight for the restoration of militant tactics in the trade union movement. This is not a mere ideological point. With employers becoming more aggressive, militant industrial tactics are necessary.

See also

Socialists and trade unions

bunny st mcdonalds strike unfuck the world

By Ben Petersen (Fightback – Wellington)

Socialists have a long relationship with trade unions. There are exciting chapters of history where socialists have led important working class battles, such as the fight for the eight-hour working day. Today, socialists will often meet in union offices and often will seek to involve unions in our campaigns.

This is not just a coincidence. The socialist movement has important contributions to make to the trade union movement, and needs to consider these organisations to achieve radical change.

Common ground

The socialist movement is a project for revolutionary change. Socialists want to overthrow today’s society based on exploitation, and build a new world where ordinary people have control over their lives and communities. The agent for this change is the working people themselves.

Trade unions are organisations for working people. Trade unions seek to organise workers in a particular industry (such as teachers, construction workers, or dairy workers). A trade union should then represent workers and their interests. Unions fight on the job for better pay and conditions, or for better legislation from government to protect workers or strengthen their bargaining position.

The overlap is obvious. Socialists seek to empower working people to change the world and trade unions are organisations for working people to defend their interests. Socialists participate in trade unions because they provide an important space to build an alternative.

Unionism is a living question

Often socialists talk about trade unions as a question of the past. Historical events are remembered and eulogised, but can be presented in a way that is divided from the present. It is important to remember the important events in union history, such as the great strikes in 1913 or the lockout of the waterside workers in 1951, but this is not to rote learn a historical narrative. Socialists study the radical past to learn lessons to build from today.

Radical unionism is not an identity. Radical unionism is not confined to particular historical periods or militant industries. Unionism is not confined to white men in overalls. The first strike in New Zealand was by Maori forestry workers who demanded to be paid in money or gunpowder, instead of in rations.

Some industries have long traditions of unionism, such as waterside workers and the West Coast miners. But today’s economy is much broader than these industries. There are thousands of workers in education and health care, or in service industries.

For socialist unionists, it is important to be part of building the unions in these areas. Capitalism is a system that serves to exploit. This exploitation changes and develops over time. Capitalism in Aotearoa today has important education industries, and a vast civil service that administers capitalism as a whole. To challenge capitalist exploitation, it is important for trade unions to be in all sectors of the economy.

When workers are organised they can exercise their collective power. A unionised workforce can therefore dictate the terms of their exploitation by going on strike or refusing to work for shit pay, work long hours, or in unsafe conditions. This process is a challenge to the authority of the capitalist system.

Reforms for revolution

Of course, socialists have a vision that looks much further than limiting the forms of exploitation that working people submit to. Any radical that is true to their ideals dreams of overthrowing capitalism and building a new world based on co-operation and social ownership. So for some, this can seem contradictory – if unions are fighting to reform and limit exploitation, is it really a place for revolutionaries?

Fighting for socialism will be a long and complicated process. Achieving a revolution will not be by simply convincing a majority of people that change is necessary, but by building a movement that makes change possible.

One of the challenges in fighting for revolutionary change will be a question of confidence. If working people do not have the confidence in their ability to fight and win a pay rise, do we think that working people can have the confidence to fight for fundamental social change? Winning these small gains can help to show oppressed people their collective strength, and only this strength can open the road to more fundamental change.

Even to be aware of this collective strength is not enough. The power of working people has to be organised and developed. To enable a world where working people run their own communities will need organisation. A socialist future will be built on participatory democracy. To make this democracy possible, working people will need the experience of participating in and organising their workplaces and communities. If working people don’t yet have the organisation to win a pay rise, it won’t be possible to have the organisation to run an alternative society and an economy to support it.

If socialists are serious about working class power, we need to understand that this will not just fall into place. It will need to be built.

Problems of unions

Part of the challenge is that this is not a simple task. The existence of unions is not enough. Many unions today are run by bureaucrats that are more interested in a cushy job than in working class power. Proportionally, wages have decreased for decades, but unions have failed to resist the slide. Failing to protect working people, the union movement has struggled to make itself relevant for working people today. Union membership has decreased to the point were as few as 7% of workers in the private sector are union members.

In many unions, the leaders are divorced from the workers that they are supposed to represent. Union officials often haven’t worked in the industries they nominally represent, and are on wages that are well above that of the industry they organise. Spaces for union members to democratically engage in their union are weak or non-existent. Unions have become ‘professionalised’, where the services of union officials replaces the activity of activists in workplaces.

Socialists support trade unions as organisation for workers to fight for their interests. Therefore, socialists do not support practices that undermine unions, and seek to challenge them.

The militant minority

Socialists support unions because we believe in the power of ordinary people. The role of a socialist in a union can be varied. Socialists will always try to be good unionists at their work, but this can take different paths, depending on a range of factors.

Being a union radical can mean assisting with initiatives in the union and building organisation for the next fight with the boss. It could mean opposing a rotten leadership and building rank and file networks to challenge entrenched bureaucrats. Sometimes socialists may work for unions to contribute to building the organisation as an official.

But always, radical unionists seek to build the capacity for the working class to fight against their oppression.

See also

300 hotel workers strike in Fiji

 

300 workers strike in FijiOn December 31 close to three hundred workers at Sheraton Fiji, Sheraton Villas, and Westin Denarau Island Resort took industrial action. Workers held a spontaneous protest against the unilateral removal of their staff benefits. The strike was initiated by the land owning committee (LOC) after maternity leave and overtime pay entitlements were taken away.

“In fourtee n days we will go back to work… sort things out. All those temporary staff who were supposed to be permanent, they have to be made permanent and those who are owed maternity  leave and sick leave etcetera – they have to be paid,” LOC spokesperson Simione Masicola told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation.  [Read more…]

A young migrant woman’s experience of work in NZ

Unite Burger King occupation: "Burger King has always remained to be the fast food company which pays the lowest wages."

Unite Burger King occupation: “Burger King has always remained to be the fast food company which pays the lowest wages.”

Wei Sun (Fightback, Christchurch)

After the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) in 1840 anyone could immigrate to New Zealand, while most settlers in the nineteenth century came from the UK, substantial numbers of Chinese labours immigrated to work on the goldfields of Otago. These migrants faced discrimination from white migrants but were not discriminated against in law until 1881 when a ‘poll tax’ was introduced for Chinese entering New Zealand.

The 1920 Immigration Restriction Act allowed the Minister of Customs to exclude any people who were ‘unsuitable’. While not officially adopting the ‘White New Zealand’ immigration policy, the law was used in practice to restrict the immigration of Asian people, especially Chinese. The idea of a ‘White New Zealand’ was supported by the early Labour as well as the Liberal and Reform parties (forerunners of National, which formed when they merged).

While Asian students began coming to New Zealand to study under the Colombo Plan in the 1950s, some choosing to stay after completing study, the 1920 law was used to restrict Asian immigration throughout most of the twentieth century. From 1974 criteria for entry to New Zealand gradually changed from race or nationality to merits and skills, but it wasn’t until the 1987 Immigration Act that legal discrimination against some races and nationalities was ended.

Today migrant workers are still struggling for their equal rights.  Burger King has always remained to be the fast food company which pays the lowest wages. Even some of those who have worked there for over ten years are still struggling on minimum wage. One of the biggest issues presented is the exploitation and bullying of migrant workers.

Many employers threaten their migrant workers by saying they might withdraw the workers’ work visa. Thus many migrants end up working under unreasonable working conditions and extremely low wages. While some unions still maintain a hostile attitude towards immigrants, Unite has made an impact organising in migrant workers in fast food, an industry which employs a large number of international students.

As an international student myself, I am currently holding a student visa and I am allowed to work up to 20 hours a week except for summer and winter holidays. In 2011, which was my first year in New Zealand, I had three jobs at different Chinese restaurants in Christchurch. Due to my lack of knowledge of New Zealand’s employment law and a strong English language barrier, I believed that it is ‘normal’ and ‘reasonable’ to work on nine dollars an hour in the first three-month trial period. At all of these restaurants I was getting paid cash.

I was being told off all the time. My bosses pointed at my nose and yelled at me almost every time I was on my shift, mostly because I was not moving fast enough or smiling enough to the customers.  I had to cover all the ‘losses’ made by myself due to careless working. The worst times were when the till was fifty dollars short, or when customers ran away without paying the bills.

The first place I worked at was called Zest Noodle House. My bosses would tell me to leave when there were not enough customers so they could just work by themselves. Sometimes after a long commute to work they told me to leave after one and half or two hours because it was not ‘busy enough’.

I signed the date, my name, starting time and finishing time of the day on a notebook they had for all the staff, and they paid every one of us cash on our last shift of the week. Unsurprisingly, the cash was always short, sometimes 50 cents, sometimes a few dollars.

I ended up quitting the job, like all the other previous staff had. I never got time and a half pay on public holidays, or sick pay. As I heard from previous co-workers and Chinese friends, this sort of thing is a common experience, and a common response; leaving instead of reporting the employers or taking other action. It is a sad but ‘normal’ thing that we are all shy, scared, or confused and never tell anyone else or get help.

Now it has been over two years since I was employed by those Chinese restaurants’ owners, and I do regret not standing up for myself and the co-workers. Of course horrible things as such do not just happen to us Chinese girls. One of my Thai friends told me the situation is exactly the same at the restaurant she was working at. She was threatened that her visa would be withdrawn if she refused to get paid ten dollars per hour cash.

More recently I was employed at a dairy shop in south west Christchurch. I was extremely happy when they decided to hire me, because they agreed to pay me proper minimum wage and tax to the government rather than cash ‘under the table’, but I left after one year due to sexual harassment over the last two months at the dairy shop.

One shift I was doing the ‘end of the day settlement’ and closing the shop, my boss threw 50-dollar note at my face, ‘he said the camera was off and no one would ever know, plus I needed cash anyway’. I said there is no way I am going to do that, and then quit the job not long after.

I had a long talk with him. I said “Look, you’ve got a lovely wife and a 23-year-old daughter. If you stop doing this, I will not report you, because your wife (the other boss of mine) is the nicest boss I have ever had. But you have to promise to stop doing this, otherwise I really will go report you” He agreed.

A little over six months since I quit the job at the dairy, a young woman who works at a neighbouring shop (owned by the same people as the dairy shop) contacted me and told me that the boss attempted to harass another Chinese girl who works there, who then quit.

This time I will not let him go. We have agreed that the girl from the dairy, the girl from the neighbouring shop, and I are going to report this boss together.

At the beginning of last year, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies pointed out that Kiwi xenophobia has been growing. I have experienced Xenophobia myself. Some employers only seek for similar values and beliefs, and avoid ‘the others’.

Maintaining a work visa is of upmost importance to many migrant workers. To some of us, the most difficult condition we face is that we could be arrested and deported for militant action. But since we have the most to lose from militant action, sometimes we do know a lot about unionism and politics.

A Japanese friend of mine also told me that his previous boss promised to get him a work visa for his permanent residency if he agreed to work under certain wage and conditions. He worked for a year, but the work visa or residency never happened.

Migrant workers are part of the working class too. Regardless of our ethnicity, we do work and we contribute to New Zealand society. We bring our experiences from our home countries, and help the New Zealand working class to be more cosmopolitan and international. It is important to defend all workers against attacks, including the controls put on migrant workers that help maintain their oppression and exploitation. Capitalism exploits the global working class as a whole, therefore, the more we unite workers together, not divide workers along lines of race or nationality, the stronger we get, and the better we can fight against the system itself.

Union movement gathers for ‘Fairness at Work’

MANA at CTU biennial conference (including Fightback members Heleyni and Grant)

MANA at Council of Trade Unions biennial conference (including Fightback members Heleyni and Grant)

Adapted from an article for Kai Tiaki Nursing NZ. By Grant Brookes, delegate for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) and Fightback member.

132 delegates, representing nearly 300,000 union members, met in Wellington on 9-10 October.

The Council of Trade Unions Biennial Conference 2013 examined the issues facing working people in New Zealand since the last gathering in 2011, and debated how to promote “Fairness at Work” as we face a fork in the road over the next two years.

Down one possible path, our future will see the end of guaranteed meal breaks, a loss of bargaining power, rising inequality and growing insecurity at work.

But the good news, conveyed in a speech to the Conference by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, is that we are heading towards election year with the momentum to create a different future.

Former NZNO organiser Jeff Sissons, now working as the CTU General Counsel, began by giving an overview of where we’re at now.

The proportion of workers belonging to a union fell from 50% to just over 20% during the 1990s, he said, as the National Government removed the legal right to belong to a union, in breach of our international human rights obligations.

The Employment Relations Act, passed by the Labour-led government in 2000, enabled unions to halt the decline. But it wasn’t enough to generate any real recovery, and workers in many jobs (especially in the private sector) are still without union protection.

As a result, New Zealand had the fastest growing gap between rich and poor of any developed country over the last 20 years.

Jeff Sissons discussed international research by two British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, showing that this inequality is behind many of today’s public health problems, from obesity, to mental illness and child mortality from accidents. And New Zealand’s income gap is still growing.

The Conference also launched a major new CTU report on the silent epidemic of insecure work (http://union.org.nz/underpressure). Under Pressure: Insecure Work in New Zealand shows that at least 30% of New Zealand’s workers – over 635,000 people – are now in jobs without guaranteed hours, ongoing certainty of employment, or employment rights like sick leave, holidays, safety at work and freedom from discrimination. These workers often lack sufficient income and are powerless to change their situation.

CTU President Helen Kelly said the problem of insecure work could affect up to 50% of New Zealand’s workers. It has spread far beyond groups like young people working in fast food and is now creeping into the “good jobs” in health, banking, higher education and in government departments.

Helen Kelly mentioned the 120 staff employed in Elderslea Rest Home in Upper Hutt, who were told in July that management wanted to remove permanent rosters and roster them all casually, according to occupancy.

National’s latest changes to the Employment Relations Act will accelerate these trends and bring the problem of insecure work to more and more workplaces.

But in a keynote address, newly-elected Labour Party leader David Cunliffe spelled out his commitments for working people (https://www.labour.org.nz/media/speech-ctu-conference).

“Labour will immediately raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. We will support the campaign for a Living Wage for all New Zealanders. A Labour Government I lead will scrap National’s unfair employment law changes – in the first hundred days.

“There will be no more fire at will without even an explanation. There will be no more attacks on collective bargaining, giving employers the right to opt out of good faith process. There will be no more attacks on vulnerable workers. There will be no more taking away smokos and lunch breaks.

“We will restore the protections for our most vulnerable workers currently contained in Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act.

“We will scrap youth rates because they violate the principle of equal pay for equal work. We will work to ensure pay equity. Labour will extend paid parental leave to a minimum of 26 weeks, as set out in Sue Moroney’s Member’s Bill.

“The Labour Government I lead will turn back the tide of anti-worker legislation that has been flowing from the Key Government for the last five years.”

Both Cunliffe and Metiria Turei signaled support for an overhaul of employment laws, tying into CTU efforts to move beyond the Employment Relations Act and further strengthen unions, collective bargaining and security at work.

“Labour will implement a new employment relations framework based on industry standard agreements”, said Cunliffe, “whereby working New Zealanders have a real choice to get together and negotiate better pay and conditions with their employers.”

But it also appeared that Cunliffe is straddling a contradiction. “These changes are not a one-off”, he said. “They need to be an enduring part of a New Zealand that finds common ground between productive workers and good employers.”

What happens when there is no “common ground”?

Cunliffe plugged his appointment of unionists Andrew Little, Darien Fenton and Carol Beaumont to industrial relations positions. But at the same time, he has appointed neo-liberal hardliner David Parker to the finance portfolio.

“New Zealand needs a strategic shift in economic management”, he said, “from a cost-based strategy that treats workers as commodities whose cost is to be minimised, to one that sees workers as an integral part of a system that creates high value products and services”.

Does this verbal sleight-of-hand conceal two economic management strategies which are essentially the same?

The contradiction was also clear in Cunliffe’s response to a question from the Conference floor about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He expressed support for PHARMAC, but also reiterated his party’s conditional support for the free trade deal threatening our state drug-buying agency.

How Cunliffe’s contradiction would play out in practice in a Labour-led government will depend on how unions respond.

Metiria Turei credited our movement with opening up the possibility of a different future, a path that is “good for people, good for the planet”.

“Workers and their unions are among those at the heart of the gathering momentum”, she said. “Thousands have joined rallies and stood up against National’s attacks”.

Helen Kelly called on us to “continue the local activism to get workers on the roll and out in the election campaign – not just to vote – connecting all the campaigns to make wages and work a key election issue” (http://union.org.nz/news/2013/speech-nzctu-president-helen-kelly-nzctu-biennial-conference-2013).

The next step, she said, is the referendum on the sale of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand, to be held between 22 November and 13 December.

NZNO supports the Save Our Assets campaign because warm homes, power prices and ultimately electricity privatisation are a health issue.

“We need to use events like the asset sale referendum to maximum advantage”, said Helen Kelly.  “Delegates in workplaces can facilitate the voting in the asset sale referendum – get people who do not get a paper to get on the roll, and check that those with a paper cast their vote.

“We then need to keep the momentum going into next year.  We can make the difference.”