A New Vision Needed By Labour Movement

unite bunny st picket

Reprinted from The Daily Blog (Aotearoa/NZ). By Mike Treen, Unite Union National Secretary.

One of the disappointing aspects of some labour movement leaders comments on the private members bill to legalise scabbing was that it wasn’t needed because strikes were so low in this country.

But that is part of the problem. It is true that industrial action has reached record lows in this country. The employers as a consequence just seem hungry for more.

New Zealand workers have some of the fewest legal protections in the world. Even the USA has time and a half after 40 hours in their law! In many states unions can impose union recognition and compulsory unionism by a majority vote of the affected staff. In New Zealand that isn’t even on the agenda as a possible discussion point.

The one minor legislative entitlement won under the last labour government (making meal and rest breaks a legal entitlement) is being taken away by the government. The previous Labour Government also gave unions the right to access workplaces to sign up new members but membership as a percentage of the private sector workforce continued to decline overall and now stands at less than 10%.

This was a product of a long retreat of the union movement following the passing of the Employment Contracts Act into law in 1991. Union membership halved in numbers and went from 40% to 20% of the workforce and stayed at that level despite the economic growth and new legal rights under the 1999-2008 Labour Government.

Alongside the deunionisation went a radical restructuring of the workforce. Full time male employment fell for a period then recovered at a lesser rate than the working age population. Part time and casual work expanded. Cheaper female employment rose for both full-time and part time.

Real wages were driven down 25% in real terms in the 1990s and have never recovered since. Whole industries were largely deunionised. One sector my union represents in the international Hotel chains went from a standard employment agreement of full-time work with penal rates for overtime and on the weekends, to being effectively on the minimum wage, having no guaranteed hours and no penal rates or other allowances. Their real wage decline was probably in the order of 40 to 50%. [Read more…]

Interview: The 15 year old fighting back against McDonald’s

Hassan and Marienne start the strike at Wairau Park, Auckland

Hassan and Marienne start the strike at Wairau Park, Auckland

An interview with Hassan Al-Fadhi (2/7/13) originally published on Unite News.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Hassan. I’m 15 years old, I’m a student at Glenfield College and I work part time at McDonald’s.

What happened tonight?

Tonight I was working in the kitchen at McDonald’s in Wairau Park [Auckland]. My union organiser, Shane, came in and said that it was a perfect time to go on strike because it was so busy. Nearly all of the people working were members of the union but they were really scared. I thought ‘screw this’, clocked out and told the restaurant manager I was going on strike. I took off my gloves and apron and walked out.

Did anyone come with you?

My friend Marienne came on strike with me too, even though she was scared before. Then we went to Constellation Drive McDonald’s and three more workers came on strike with us. I’m happy that I stood up for myself and I’m stoked that Marienne and the other workers came too. Now that everyone has seen that we went on strike and nothing bad happened I think they will come next time.

Why should McDonald’s workers go on strike?

McDonald’s workers should all go on strike because we work really hard but we need more hours and we need more pay. When we don’t strike no one listens to us. If they don’t listen the first time we need to keep striking until they do.

Are you proud of yourself?

Yep, and Marienne too.

Millenial generation: Casualisation and resistance

millenials boomers

Ian Anderson, Fightback.

Middle-brow sections of the capitalist press have criticised ‘millenials’ in recent months, and millenials in turn have responded through blogs and other media. Also termed Generation Y, the ‘millenial’ generation broadly covers people born between 1980 and 2000 – “teenagers and twenty-somethings.”

In May, Time Magazine ran a cover story describing millenials as the “Me Me Me generation.”  Author Joel Stein was quick to distinguish himself from previous generations of crotchety, anti-youth reactionaries through an appeal to science; “I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies! I have statistics! I have quotes from respected academics! Unlike my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, I have proof.”

Stein cited statistics that ‘millenials’ have a higher rate of narcissism than previous generations. These statistics are disputed. However, some generational trends are harder to dispute; millenials are less likely to own property, more likely to live with their parents, more likely to be politically cynical than previous generations.

In liberal US paper The Nation, student Emily Crockett noted the most “glaring omission” from Stein’s Time magazine rant; the declining economic conditions faced by millenials compared with their parents.  In fact, Crockett noted that the closest Stein came to acknowledging “low-income youth” consisted of a mocking jab about “ghetto-fabulous lifestyles.”

More recently in Australian women’s publication Daily Life, columnist Daniel Stacey argued that the casualisation of work in recent decades has forced millenials to adapt their behaviour; “The fundamental error here is to mistake the adaptive behaviours of a new generation for the cause behind labour market changes.” Stacey argued that much of this adaptive behaviour, particularly disloyalty to companies, is a form of individual resistance. [Read more…]

Pakeha Party founder tells striking McDonalds workers to “get another job”

The ongoing attack on workers’ rights

Unionised Rockgas workers target Jami-Lee Ross' office.

Unionised Rockgas workers target Jami-Lee Ross’ office.

Joel Cosgrove, Fightback member.

It’s ironic that the Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Bill is being put forward by National backbench MP Jami-Lee Ross. The bill which allows employers to bring in temporary staff (scabs) to work when workers are on strike is  being put forward by an MP who has no history of actual work, having first been elected to the Manukau City Council at 18 in 2004 and then to the parliamentary seat of Botany at 25 in 2011. [Read more…]

Unite’s long fight for improvements at McDonald’s

bunny st thumbs up

By Fightback writers

Unite union members employed at McDonald’s have entered a campaign to fight for better pay and better hours of work. This is the fourth time that Unite has negotiated over wages and conditions with McDonald’s since the SupersizeMyPay campaign in 2005.

Before the SupersizeMyPay campaign there was no union agreement for McDonalds workers or other workers in the fastfood industry. The 2005 campaign brought good improvements at Restaurant Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks) stores. The improvements at McDonalds and Burger King were more modest. However McDonald’s and Burger King Unite members got benefits from the first union agreement being achieved in those workplaces for decades and from legislative changes that resulted from the campaign. The largest win was the removal of youth rates over a two-year period.

The SupersizeMyPay campaign seriously shook employers across the fast-food industry. The McDonald’s bosses – especially individual franchisees – maintained a conscious fight against the union by victimising people who joined Unite. For example, in the case of Kaipoi McDonald’s a membership of a whole store was bullied out of the union with the excpetion of one member. The remaining member and Unite challenged the employer. The McDonald’s boss employer was fined, forced to pay damages to the employee, and forced to pay costs.

In 2008 the union began negotiations for its second collective agreement with McDonald’s. The company stalled negotiations for months and the pay gap between McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands workers continued to grow. McDonald’s made a near-zero offer to its staff. The months of wage freeze were brought to an end by a significant industrial campaign by McDonald’s workers in which there were more than 60 stoppages.

The result was a union agreement which secured specified amounts above minimum wage that the company had to pay to workers graded at various levels above minimum wage. This meant that all employees got an increase whenever the minimum wage went up. There were also percentage increases locked in for supervisory staff for each year of the agreement and other improvements to working conditions.

That campaign set a different tone with the company. The next agreement was resolved without strike action as the union had been able to negotiate a significant improvement regarding hours of work. In particular, a clause was entered into the agreement which provides that the company can’t cut the hours of work of employees with one year or more of service by any more than 25%. (Of course every agreement has resulted in a range of improvements and this article is concerned with the highlights and key issues). [Read more…]

Strike report: Bunny Street McDonalds, Wellington

Heleyni on megaphone outside of Bunny St

Bunny St McDonalds had its second McStrike today with seven members of staff dropping tools and coming out to join the picket line, in fact they’d already come outside before the picket line had even been set up.

The picket began as supporters came around the corner and saw the workers already set up outside, with the first chant of the day starting “old McDonalds had a strike, e I e I o, and on that strike there was Unite, e I e I o. With a strike, strike here and a strike, strike there. Here a strike, there a strike, everywhere a strike strike. Old McDonalds had a strike…”

There was a huge well of support for the strike, with a large, visible majority of people clearly choosing not to come inside (the difference in walk in traffic is obvious as soon as the picket line ends, people flood in).

The store owner was clearly rattled and angry, demanding that we stay well clear of the main door and that we don’t try to dissuade people from coming inside, claiming that he was concerned about ‘health and safety’. When challenged that real health and safety issues were understaffing his store, paying the minimum wage, and in effect stealing pay by not letting staff go on their legal breaks, he stalked inside glaring outside every so often.

A number of people decided to show solidarity by going elsewhere, when confronted with the workers and the picket line.

A small minority of people decided to push their way through in their desperate desire to get their burgers. The people who pushed through were arguing a number of points, that it was their right, that we would get more support if we just let people in, or that they just wanted to get in and we weren’t going to stop them.

What’s interesting about this situation with these people who pushed so hard for their right to consume their burger, is the primacy of the relationship between the consumer and the burger, if they were confronted by the workers, they quickly pushed past and went inside, desperately trying to ignore them. The relationship is between the consumer and the burger, not the consumer and the worker.

Already rumours are going around of wildcat strikes all around the city that haven’t happened, and yet the workers at various stores swear they have. Management are trying desperately to shut down any discussion about what is happening and yet this is only giving off the impression that there is something to hide, which fuels the interest and reputation of the union.

On Monday the first public War Council meeting will be held [6pm at Peoples’ Cinema] for Unite members and supporters to plan and organize future actions and stunts. Members have been really excited at the idea of coming together and pushing this campaign forwards and fighting to win.

Unite takes on McDonald’s in high stakes fight for low-paid workers


Originally printed by Green Left Weekly (Australia). By Joel Cosgrove, Fightback member.

After a relatively quiet couple of years, the Unite union, which organises fast food and other previously unorganised sectors, has burst into action with a vigorous industrial campaign against McDonald’s.

The key demands are focused around winning a NZ$15 starting wage, an end to casualised hours, a fair and transparent roster system and a number of union-only benefits, most of which have already been won by KFC Unite members.

Unite gained national attention when it began its SupersizeMyPay.com campaign in 2005. The campaign focused on developing union membership in the fast food industry, as well as campaigning for a $12 minimum wage and an end to youth pay rates.

The campaign achieved collective contracts in most of the major fast food chains ・ McDonalds’, Burger King (Hungry Jacks in Australia) and Restaurant Brands (KFC, Carls Jr, Starbucks, Pizza Hutt) for the first time since the end of compulsory unionism in the 1980s.

This was not an easy or smooth process. There were lightning strikes, wildcat strikes and walkouts. There was more initial success at Restaurant Brands (especially KFC), where union density was higher and management resistance towards the union was less deep- set than at McDonald’s.

McDonald’s have an international structure centred on McDonald’s HQ at Oak Brook, Illinois and “Hamburger University” — a 12,000 square metre complex.

McDonald’s claims its “university” to be “the company’s global center of excellence for McDonald’s operations training and leadership development”, churning out 5000 graduates a year and claiming to have graduated more than 80,000 “students”.

The role of the university is to centralise the company’s indoctrination process, building a consciously crafted global corporate culture. In New Zealand, this has been reflected in a culture of bullying, intimidation and anti-unionism that is spread through local operations.

McDonald’s has never been willing to give an inch. Every win has been heavily fought for.

The current dispute revolves around an offer of a $0.25 increase in all rates over a two year period. For those on starting rates, that is actually just the government mandated rise to the minimum wage.

An even more extreme perspective is held by most franchisee owners, who have expressed a desire to not even have collective contracts.

Unite has been building members numbers for several years now. The claims being put forward are being compared to the conditions already won by KFC workers. This example has been very useful to date in putting forward their example as a way forward for McDonald’s workers to begin the struggle for improved conditions.

In light of the miserly offer from the company and hostility from franchisee owners, 85% of members voted in support of industrial action in a recent nationwide ballot.

The process of starting this campaign has unearthed a raft of complaints and issues at McDonald’s nationwide. Most prominent was the revelation that union member Sean Bailey was told by a manager that “if you act gay on my shift, I will discipline you” and “if you turn anyone else in the store gay, I will punish you and make you lose your job”.

Similar issues of bullying and harassment have come to light, including not being able to take breaks and not being paid for overtime.

At a demonstration in Auckland with about 30 members and supporters, a large contingent of police arrived and roughly pushed away protesters who had been blocking access to an inner-city McDonald’s store. Police claimed the protesters were negatively affecting custom to the store, something the union stated was its right.

In the furore over the issue, Unite members in McDonald’s and other fast food stores brought up the issue of police getting free or heavily discounted food.

Although initially denied, a police spokesperson then scoffed at the idea that police could be “brought off” with burgers. McDonald’s said individual franchisee owners made the decision to give discounts to “emergency services workers”.

This was shown to be an insultingly mockery of the truth when a union member supplied to media a photo showing a button titled “police promo” on their electronic tills.

In the aftermath of these revelations, police officers provided anonymous statements about being disgusted at other officers’ taking these perks. Fast food workers came forward with similar stories and the police and police minister had to retract their statements from two days earlier.

Union pickets in the South Island have been driven into by customers seemingly desperate for their cheeseburger fix. Overall though, members of the public have been supportive of the campaign. Therer have been very few attempts to break picket lines in Wellington recently and fewer still managing to get through.

Pickets and protests have been marked by strong support from both pedestrians and passing vehicles.

A Unite “war council” has been formed in Wellington to coordinate the protests and strikes. Auckland are holding a “McStrike Training Day” to build the skills, contacts and networking that is required to win.

See also: McDonald’s hit by first ever strike in Wellington

“Nek minnit” : Police collaborate with McDonalds

First McDonalds strike ever in Wellington

mcdonalds bunny street wellington strike

The first McDonalds strike ever in Wellington happened today.

At 8am 5 of the 7 workers on shift came off the job and joined the picket line that had been set up outside Bunny St McDonalds. It was a noisy, lively affair, with Fightback member and Wellington Unite Union organizer Heleyni Pratley leading the way with chants, songs and the occasional speech to the people passing by, explaining why the strike was being held and why the public needed to respect the picket line. Few people tried to break the picket line set up outside the main door and fewer still managed to force their way in.

Management had at the last moment rostered on more non-union staff in an attempt to keep the store running. Yet with few people in the store, the level of staffing was irrelevant. With numerous cars tooting their support, McDonalds management attempted to give out free vouchers to try and entice members of the public to break the picket and come into the store, but after a public service announcement over the megaphone explaining what these vouchers represented, a large amount of people were seen to chuck them in the gutters, still wet from the sporadic rain.

A member of the striking staff spoke briefly on the megaphone about their experiences on the floor, of being paid minimum wage.

The picket was a lively affair, with about 25 present a mix of socialists, activists and trade unionists from FIRST Union, the Postal Workers Union of Aotearoa, the NZ Nurses Organisation and the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union.

After half an hour, the members went back into the store with Heleyni accompanying them to make sure that management (including the franchise owner, who had arrived and stood at the back of the store looking darkly at the picket line outside) didn’t threaten or attempt to discipline the workers for standing up and striking.

While it was a short demonstration, this is an escalation of the struggle for increased conditions for Unite members in McDonalds and in the wider fast food industry. A number of KFC members have already made it clear that a weak McDonalds collective, undermines their own ability to fight for better wages and conditions. 85% of unionised McDonalds workers nationwide have voted for strike action.

A Unite Union ‘War Council’ has been formed in Wellington to coordinate demonstrations and strikes amongst members and supporters.

heleyni mcdonalds bunny st