Power in union – teachers strike for education

By Shomi Yoon

 

Teachers from both secondary, primary, and area schools went on strike in their thousands yesterday to show their determination and frustration with the negotiations with the Ministry of Education and Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

 

Union strength and union pride rang out throughout Aotearoa. The combined strength of both unions was palpable. Teachers downed their whiteboard markers and schools nationwide had no choice but to close their doors. Some 300,000 school children stayed at home. In the rallies that happened across the motu, teachers shut down traffic and marched through the main streets demanding for better conditions and pay. The noise from chanting teachers at the biggest gathering of teachers in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland was “deafening”. With the combined membership of 50,000 between the secondary teachers’ PPTA and primary teachers’ NZEI, the relevance of unions, the power of unionism and strikes are indisputable.

 

Which side are you on?

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Where does real change come from?

In 1974 an Auckland shipowner, Leo Dromgoole, went to court to get an injunction against the Seamen’s Union and Northern Drivers Union. The Seamen had a dispute with Dromgoole over his Waiheke Island commuter ship, and the Drivers had been refusing to deliver oil in solidarity their fellow unionists. The Court sided with Dromgoole and ordered the union to stop “interfering”. The unionists ignored the order and so on 1 July their leader, Bill Andersen, was sent to Mt Eden prison. What happened next shocked everyone: thousands of workers – drivers and seafarers, but also factory and construction workers – downed tools when they learned of Andersen’s imprisonment and walked off the job. Thousands of workers marched down Queen Street to Andersen’s hearing the next day. Within 24 hours their action had forced results: Anderson was released, the injunction was a dead letter, and a compromise had been hurried through.

If this seems a world away from 2019, it tells us something important about where real power lies in society. When workers were organised and confident of their strength they could crush an unjust court ruling – and the jailing of one of their leaders – by demonstrating their power. Future attempts to use injunctions against the Northern Drivers Union, in 1979, came to nothing when they were again ignored. Fast-forward forty years, and we see the same principle applied in reverse: no matter how many protections and guaranteed conditions exist in employment law, they mean little in reality to workers without written contracts or the confidence union coverage gives to insist on your rights.

Labour and the Greens claim to be committed to what Jacinda Ardern calls “transformative and compassionate government”. And they ask workers, students and the oppressed to vote for them and then sit tight and wait for that transformation to happen. Be patient, the message goes. As Ardern told The Spinoff last year: “transformation does take time.”

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Who gains from Capital Gains?

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Simon Bridges is prepared for the working class to make every necessary sacrifice to defend his Kiwi way of life.

by Guy McCallum

The Tax Working Group, set up by the Labour-led government in 2018, has released its first volume of findings. This is where the government’s proposed capital gains tax is beginning to take shape, and a useful analysis underpinning the work of this group is important to understanding the broader political narratives arising from the working groups’ recommendations.

But first, what is a capital gains tax (CGT)?

Capital gains are the profits produced from selling an asset at a higher price than it was worth when it was first purchased. Thus a capital gains tax is levied on the value that was produced by doing nothing other than selling the asset when the time was right to make a profit.

Despite National’s hyperbole about the CGT being a ‘raid’ on landed wealth, the potential revenue of a capital gains tax has been estimated to be around $6 billion annually but it will take ten years to get to that level of return. Just under half of that revenue will be from residential investment, the rest will come from commercial, industrial or rural sales (which are typically much higher than residential sales). [Read more…]

Beating Budget Responsibility Rules Restraint

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Resident doctors striking outside Wellington Hospital, with solidarity from NZNO members, February 2019.

By Martin Gregory

 

Public health and public education, for countries that have them, make the two great calls on government expenditures, and for that reason they are at the core of the central contradiction in the character of the Ardern government. The boost in spending on these services that Labour seemed to offer in 2017 is confounded by the Budget Responsibility Rules policy that the Labour and Green parties concocted, carried through into government and have since held as an article of faith. The effect of the Rules, broadly, is that government spending is kept within the parameters inherited from the former National government. Government expenditure is pegged as a proportion of GDP and paying down government debt is prioritised over spending. The Budget Responsibility Rules are a declaration of Labour’s fealty to capitalism. As a result of spending restraint, health and education have been the flashpoints of much of the industrial action by expectant, but frustrated, workers that occurred last year and continues this year unabated.

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Pride is Politics, Solidarity and Joy

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Union banners were visible at Pride, including the NZNO and TEU    Image credit: Abigail Dougherty / Stuf

 

By Emma Mud

Pride. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing. So many people said so. It was grassroots, there was genuine appreciation that the LGBT community can fight for itself. We don’t need corporations to do it for us. This wasn’t a parade being put on to entertain straight people: it was a march for ourselves and for solidarity.

The ISO marched as part of a radical left contingent, chanting, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make these prisons fall.” We had been at the counter-demonstrations of previous years, so this weekend felt like a real victory. We – the community, the left, working-class queers, Māori, trans, young queers – put up a democratic challenge and we won. This march was both a victory in itself and a celebration of that victory. There was joy in that celebration all around us. [Read more…]

Lessons from the nurses’ dispute

NZH0557882398Since our beginning twenty-one years ago, Socialist Review has been dedicated to trying to build workers’ power on these islands. That has meant taking a realistic look at the state of our forces. And, for most of our existence, a realistic look has been a sobering one: low strike levels, union membership shrinking, workers’ confidence decreasing. The job of our magazine, much of the time, has been to document a retreat and to make arguments for how we might rebuild.

 

That situation has changed. The mass strike of health workers last July – backed up by huge rallies and marches in Auckland and elsewhere – was the inspiration for a growing wave of strikes through 2018. Health workers took strike action for the first time in almost thirty years and, although they fell short of winning all their needed demands, they have made resolute industrial action thinkable again. And they have put the government on notice around crucial questions: pay, staffing, equal pay. Nurses have changed the reality of industrial relations and, most important of all, they have made strikes part of the popular imagination again. It is hard to believe that the primary teachers’ strikes in 2018 would have been as successful had the nurses not already set out along that road.

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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.

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Criminal Injustice: Racist Cruelty

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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?

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Wellington: back the bus drivers!

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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.

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