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…]

Our ‘work ethic’ is not the problem

unnamedBy Andrew Tait

John Key came out this week and said it: New Zealanders are just too lazy or drug-addled to work, so we have to bring in migrants to “do a fabulous job” harvesting fruit and veges.

It’s a meme that has done the rounds on the media, slyly suggested by employers, farmers and politicians but never before as baldly stated by anyone as prominent as the Prime Minister. The truth is employers in agriculture are so addicted to profit they refuse to pay their workers a living wage. [Read more…]

Wellington Living Wage Advance

1445905498066After a long debate, a meeting of the Wellington City Council on 28th October voted 9 to 6 in favour of security contract staff being paid a Living Wage. The Council already pays its directly-employed staff a Living Wage. Earlier this year the Council had resolved under the Long Term Plan that they would extend it to workers in Council-Controlled Organisations and, on a case by case basis, to contract workers. Recently the Living Wage was duly implemented at CCOs. The security and noise control contract has come up for tender and has been a test case for Mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s and the councillors’ resolve to carry the Living Wage policy through. Paying the security staff a Living Wage will add to the contract price.

The centre-left on the Council must be applauded for the stand they have taken. They took the decision in the teeth of opposition from the Council’s senior management and business interests. The management report to the Council meeting was outrageously one-sided. Its central arguments were that topping up the security workers’ pay would be illegal and too expensive. Unusually, the report quoted lengthily from legal advice the managers had procured. The report was practically an invitation to take the council to court. [Read more…]

Living Wage win at Wellington City Council

Living Wage AAABy Andrew Raba

On Wednesday the 24th of June Wellington City Council voted nine to six in favour of paying its contract staff the living wage of 19.25 an hour. The ‘MOP’ march began outside the Wesley Church on Taranaki Street with a hot breakfast and speeches from the CTU president Helen Kelly and Bishop Justin Duckworth. Lots of people had brought mops to represent support for the cleaners who keep Wellington’s community spaces running and yet are paid almost as little as legally possible. At 8:45 am roughly 200 people marched from the church to Civic Square. The march was led by council employed cleaners and the Brass Razoo Solidarity Band. Among the crowd were a wide range of Wellingtonians, faith groups, unions, workers, and the ISO. [Read more…]