The Wellington picket for the RMTU’s 24-hour strike on Thursday drew a steady stream of support. Alongside RMTU members, some of whom were at the picket from 6am to 6pm, unionists from the Tramways union, the PSA, E Tu, NZNO, PPTA, TEU and other unions turned up to tautoko the strike.
“What we’re doing is really important” RMTU Vice-President Howard Phillips told those at the picket. And it is important. RMTU are defending long-standing conditions around pay, penalty rates and statutory days. Some of these conditions are “pre-1991,” meaning they have been defended through the onslaught of Rogernomics and the aftermath of the Employment Contracts Act. It is no surprise then that 96% of RMTU members voted to strike- which, according to Phillips, should have been enough of a sign for the boss to “pack up his little tent.” Unions Wellington convener Ben Peterson argued for the importance of solidarity across unions, drawing parallels between the RMTU dispute and the Tramways Union’s ongoing struggle. Both unions are defending their pay and conditions against the companies their services have been contracted out to (Trandsdev and Hyundai Rotem in the case of the RMTU). Paterson argues that Regional Councils have “actively facilitated” these attacks on conditions by contracting these public services out to private companies, who are now attempting to wring profits out of them by slashing conditions . Our reporters agree.
Efforts by the mainstream media, right wing politicians and Transdev themselves to whip up bad feeling towards the striking workers hasn’t stopped a steady stream of support coming in from the public. During the picket supporters brought food, water and encouragement. Roadside placards drew a chorus of encouraging honks and waves. The Unions Wellington network filled several placards with the signatures of supporters, and reported that support had been flowing in online as well, with over 350 people using their “this commuter supports the transport workers” banner by Thursday evening. All of this despite the press preemptively labelling the strike a “disruption,” “commuter chaos” and “bad news.” The morning after, reports were rolling in that the traffic was “actually pretty good” and “predicted commuter chaos” had “failed to materialise.” Opponents of the strike must be disappointed.
“The best part of it has been the support of the public” one worker on the picket said. “It could have gone either way. But the majority decided this was actually unfair, we’re gonna support the people who are providing a service for us.” He believed the timing of the RMTU’s press release could have helped with this, “The media in recent times has been anti-public transport, it’s not the greatest” but in this case the public got to “hear [the union] out before they heard the company spokesperson.”
The RMTU’s struggle is ongoing. The ISO will be taking collections and signatures in support at our regular stall today (11-12 at the Chafers Waterfront Market) and Unions Wellington have a list of ways you can show your support here.