The strike revival

Strike statistics are useful for assessing the state of workers’ militancy. Fortunately section 98 of the Employment Relations Act requires information to be submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) after every strike or lockout. This source provides statistics up to and including 2017. For this year, so far, we must rely on media reports. In the last issue of Socialist Review we cited several strikes and gave our assessment that we are witnessing a revival in class struggle. We now provide more in-depth information.

 

Table 1 shows the decline in industrial action since 2005, in which year there were 60 work stoppages involving 17,752 workers. From 2013 to 2017 the New Zealand working class hit rock bottom. In 2016 there were two strikes and one partial strike involving a total of just 430 workers. A partial strike is defined by law as any industrial action short of an actual strike. 2017 was hardly better with 6 full strikes by a total of a mere 421 employees.

[Read more…]

Criminal Injustice: Racist Cruelty

10000 too many

Protest and campaigning inside and out has put the justice system under the spotlight.

Nine years of National rule has left a cruel and brutalising legacy in New Zealand’s criminal justice system. Last year the prison population reached 10,100, an all-time high. The number of people incarcerated has increased by 364 percent in the last 30 years, according to researcher Roger Brooking. The system is racist. Over half of the prison population is Māori, and Māori are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, and given custodial sentences than non-Māori. National’s changes to the bail laws in 2013 made it much more difficult for those facing trial to get bail, leading to still more people spending time in prison. The situation is stark. According to OECD statistics, as of May 2018 New Zealand has 220 prisoners per 100,000 people, the fifth highest incarceration rate in the developed world.

Two things have got us into this sorry situation. Decades of bipartisan support for neoliberalism resulted in alienation as poverty grew and housing conditions deteriorated. The conditions that drive crime worsened.  Secondly, National and Labour, and the mass media giving publicity to the cranks of Garth McVicar’s Sensible Sentencing Trust, indulged in the crudest penal populism until a vicious “tough on crime” rhetoric was normalised. Crimes rates began to drop in the 1990s, but four new prisons were built in the 2000s as the number of people imprisoned continued to rise. The rate for Māori women is especially awful, as Moana Jackson has shown, growing from around 20 percent of the female prison population in the 1980s to 60 percent today. The prisons are overcrowded, humiliating, a source of loneliness and misery to those inside and their families outside, and they generate ongoing social costs, not least more crime. [Read more…]

New Perspectives for Rebuilding Union Power

frontcover-f_medium-2fb8dd7e1e725035417e691ea490dc17On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War

By Kim Moody (Haymarket Books, Chicago 2017)

 

Reviewed by Dougal McNeill

 

Is there a revival of working-class confidence happening in Aotearoa? The PPTA and NZEI are going into bargaining with big pay claims (e.g. 16 percent over two years for primary teachers) and health workers went on strike for the first time in decades. The NZEI went on strike in winter, and will have rolling strikes in term four. So far this year there has been action by bus drivers, at Event Cinemas, Wendys, Auckland trains, Lyttleton port, Burger King, Blue Star Group printers and Silver Fern Farms. Wellington bus drivers begin an indefinite strike in late October. Their brothers and sisters in Auckland will follow.

 

This revival takes place, however, in a context of ongoing crisis for our movement. Membership has fallen massively. In 1985 almost half of the workforce was in unions but, by the 2010s, less than 9% of those in the private sector are members. We lost some 320,000 members through the 1990s, as the Employment Contracts Act made it difficult to organise and easier for bosses to attack. Workers’ confidence to fight has slipped. There were 381,710 days ‘lost’ to strikes in 1988; by 2014 that number had slumped to just 1,448. The benefits of union membership are concentrated in the public sector, and union members are older than the working population generally.

 

What explains this decline? Many commentators argue that the nature of work has changed over the last thirty years, making union power less relevant. We have seen the rise of a “precariat”, Guy Standing claims, drifting in insecure jobs with little to gain from unionism. Others look for new ways of building – the ‘organising model’ – that use community support and savvy media campaigning to work around our workplace weaknesses. Helen Kelly pioneered imaginative campaigning like this, and the Living Wage movement has won victories with similar approaches. There’s much here to support, but it still avoids, rather than confronts, the key question: without union power, the power of the strike, what future will our movement have?

[Read more…]

Wellington: back the bus drivers!

1534919728230

National and Simon Bridges started the bus mess – but Chris Laidlaw and the GWRC need to fix it. They cannot wash their hands of the union’s just demands.

Hundreds of Wellington region bus drivers in the Tramways Union have voted for an ongoing strike from 23 October. Three bus companies that operate in the region may be affected: NZ Bus, Tranzit and Uzabus. Since the regional council awarded a large chunk of routes to Tranzit, drivers have lost their jobs or work under far worse terms and conditions. Tranzit has refused to negotiate a collective agreement with the Union.

 

Wellington’s bus services have been in chaos for months since new schedules were implemented. Greater Wellington Regional Council is responsible for bus services, parcelled out to five companies, and the suburban rail network. There is no ticketing integration overall, or even between all bus companies.

 

The reason for this mess is the contracting-out system. Wellington’s electric trolley bus network was scrapped last year in favour of polluting diesel buses purely to facilitate competition. Contracts were awarded to the companies that bid the lowest, and they seek to make their profit at the expense of drivers’ conditions and passenger services. On every count the use of the free market to run publicly-funded services has proven to be a failure.

 

It is not only Wellington where bus drivers have come to the end of their tethers. Throughout the year bus drivers in Auckland and the Waikato have taken strike action against intolerable conditions.

[Read more…]

Nurses show the way

fistRank and file nurses, midwives and health workers across the country have showed us the way forward. By speaking out – via Facebook, in face-to-face meetings, by all sorts of media – by marching in protest and, above all, by taking strike action in July, the first in over twenty years, they made health a major public topic. And they gave a lead to all of us by showing how you can win improvements in pay and conditions. The government is on notice. Equal pay, understaffed hospitals, overworked and underpaid nurses: these are issues that have not gone away. And they will not go away, because nurses will keep organising.

 

NZNO members have voted to accept the latest offer from the District Health Boards. This offer, compared to what was on the table in October last year, represents a real step forward. Health workers on the tops of their grades will get pay rises of 3% in phases over 2018 and 2019, totalling between 12 – 13% by the end of 2019. New pay bands have been created. A lump sum of $2000 will be paid. The DHBs have agreed to set up a national framework around staffing safety, a major issue raised by nurses during the dispute. The government has announced 500 extra nurses, a plan not connected to the negotiations by inconceivable without the pressure striking nurses exerted. There is extra funding available to work on safer staffing, and the DHBs have committed to pay equity by the end of next year. The union will need to hold them to account to make this happen.

  [Read more…]

Strikes are Back: Victory to the Health Workers!

nursing-union-members-protest-outside-auckland-hospital-on-thursday-ahead-of-potential-strike-action-photo_jason-oxenham_nzhBy Martin Gregory

After a long slumber, the working class is awakening. In the first half of this year there was a smattering of industrial action, more than for years. The stirrings are hesitant. The actions, typically, limited to just hours or days. What more could we expect when it’s been decades since the unions used their now atrophied muscles? But this is the start of a revival. Young workers are tasting their power for the first time. They don’t carry the baggage of our defeats long ago. Today’s workers are learning valuable lessons from their first tentative actions that they will put to use tomorrow in bolder, more resolute strikes; strikes that win.

 

There has not been a strike at the Inland Revenue for 22 years, but on Monday PSA members there and at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment struck from 1pm to 3pm. This was a nation-wide strike involving over 4,000 workers. The biggest concentration was in the capital where about 500 marched. All around the country there were marches and rallies. The demands: across the board pay rises and an end to unfair pay systems that give management control over an individual’s pay. Another 2-hour stoppage is planned for 23 July. The PSA is currently handling a big increase in membership applications.

[Read more…]

The Budget: a socialist response

budget 2018“Budget 2018 sets out the first steps in a plan for transformation.” That’s how Grant Robertson introduced Labour’s first Budget. Hopes for transformation brought Labour, the Greens and NZ First into government last year. A glance around at the inequality, underfunding and social suffering that have become normalised after nine years of National shows how much needs to be transformed. There is a $2.7 billion gap in health funding between 2010 levels and now, according to Council of Trade Unions research. About one in eight children live in poverty. Workers have faced years of stagnant wages, and students have seen cuts to allowance eligibility and caps to the number of years they can receive a loan. The Salvation Army describes poverty levels as “critical”, with almost 40% of families facing food insecurity. Unemployed workers on benefits face the punitive and demeaning culture of WINZ, while families with at least one member in full-time employment make up about 40% of those in poverty. This is the background to Budget 2018, and to the kind of transformations needed by workers, students, and the poor.

 

Labour campaigned on a series of reforms that, since they won office, have seen their popularity increase: removing fees on the first year of tertiary study; an increase in the minimum wage; a healthy homes guarantee; a winter energy package for retired workers; extension to paid parental leave. These are all reforms socialists should support, but they are just a small fraction of the range of measures needed to address the scale of the problems working people face.

[Read more…]

Housing battle in Glen Innes

679_stand-to-stop-nikis-eviction_imageby Joshua Sims and Sam Snell

Ioela Niki Rauti is standing firm in the face of property developers.

Late 2014 Niki Rauti was served a 90 day eviction notice to vacate the Housing New Zealand state home she has lived in for over twenty years. With support from the local community, young activists and the Tamaki Housing group, she has fought attempts at eviction and won. The saga of Niki’s fight has been on-going for six years and she is now facing another eviction after the expiration of a new 90 day eviction notice served November 2016. With the possession order being granted by an adjudicator on Friday 24th February, Niki and her supporters have been kept on their toes, but have had some reprieve in a stay of proceedings being granted putting the eviction temporarily on hold.

Residents of Glen Innes along with members of the public and various organisations marched in numbers to Nikis’ residence at 14 Taniwha Street on the 17th January in solidarity and to begin mass occupation of the property. Roughly 300 people descended upon Niki’s property in two separate marches, one comprised solely of locals and the other of interested parties. Since then, the occupation has been intermittent.

This home is occupied! reads the banner outside Niki’s home. [Read more…]

Lyttleton port workers strike

families-matterBy Martin Gregory

 

Pushes from the bosses for greater ‘flexibility’ – the idea that workers should be available whenever their employer pleases, without the ability to plan for family and personal time – are coming in all sorts of industries in New Zealand. Maritime Union members in Lyttleton are resisting this at their work, and their cause should be supported by all workers.

 

Members of the Maritime Union are flexing their muscles at Lyttleton container port. They took strike action on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 January, and the union has given notices of further strikes from Friday 3 through to Sunday 5 February and on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 February. The International Socialist Organisation wishes the port workers well and that they win their demands in full.

[Read more…]

Making sense of politics in 2016

key-and-english

Key ‘framed his face to all occasions’. Will English be able to do the same?

Andrew Tait gave this presentation to the International Socialist Organisation Hui-a-tau in Auckland last month.

 

2016, in New Zealand, has not been marked by major struggles or economic disasters or booms. The Key crew, masters anyway of administering sleeping gas, have managed to avoid major scandals or divisions. On the contrary, one of the worst of a bad lot, Judith Collins, has been rehabilitated after the Oravida scandal and retaken her place on the front bench. Bill English and Paula Bennett inherit a remarkably stable and strong government.

 

Although overshadowed by National, the reformist left have made some interesting moves – promising first to work together to replace National (a position the Greens have long avoided taking before an election) and then cementing that with a double-pronged attack on immigration tailor-made to dovetail with New Zealand First, the likely third party in any post-Key government.

[Read more…]