Grant Brookes is the democratically elected President of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. The NZNO last year went through a major industrial struggle to win much-needed pay increases. This included strike action, the first such action in almost three decades. Many thousands of health workers were energised by this process, and the campaign, naturally, involved heated debate, discussion, and controversy. Nurses acted together. And they acted for themselves, voting down bad deal after bad deal.
Not everyone was happy with this flowering of member participation, however. For many years the top leadership of the NZNO have emphasized collaboration with the bosses and have treated rank-and-file activity as a threat to their control. Nurses are being punished for their rebellion last year, and Brookes is being targeted. He was elected, as one public letter of NZNO members puts it, as someone who “has openly championed a modernized, democratic, transparent union which fights for positive change and decent pay increases for its members.”
If the Board of Directors get their way, however, he will be removed in the middle of his term. Why? “Misconduct”. Sounds serious, but what are the details? That, over a year ago, Brookes sent this text late-night text to NZNO’s industrial head Cee Payne: “So you hitched yourself to the wrong wagon? Everyone forgives a single mistake. I’ll be in touch. We need you back.” This in the context of an ongoing industrial dispute, and after Payne had, as the public letter points out, cancelled the first DHB strike “without consulting members”.
For the Board to use this as an excuse to take legal advice and make these bureaucratic moves to oust Brookes is simply outrageous. Debate, open discussion and political accountability should be the norm in our union movement – and Brookes is accountable to the NZNO members who elected him.
NZNO members are voting in a new Board at the moment, and this new Board will take office the day after the special meeting set to try and roll Brookes has been scheduled. This whole process stinks of a set-up and a bureaucratic power-grab.
Respected NZNO activists, in their public letter, set this in a wider context:
“On many occasions, Brookes has found himself targeted by some members of the board and Payne who clearly prefer that the union is run by a tiny group of people without any input from members. This has resulted in a general erosion of freedom of expression and critical thinking in the union which extends far beyond the current attack on Brookes. For example, NZNO management asked lawyers to find a way to shut down the NZNO members Facebook page – a page run for and by NZNO members – and received legal advice that this was not possible. NZNO management also gave an instruction that elected, senior delegates in DHBs should not be allowed to run wage negotiation report back meetings last year for members, in case these delegates went “off script”. NZNO management insisted last year that NZNO members should not be allowed to vote on the DHB wage offer unless they sat through the same one hour presentation three times (in the middle of their very busy shifts).”
This undemocratic move against Brookes should be of concern to all trade unionists. The ISO stands in solidarity with Grant Brookes, and with all those organising in the NZNO to exert democratic control over their union.
A Give A Little page has been set up to help with Brookes’s legal fees. You can donate here.