Lessons to learn from bitter defeat

AL-john-kerry-2109eThis was a defeat, and a big one. We have to start with this unpleasant reality. National, on the current results, could govern alone if they chose; at 48% their share of the vote has actually increased compared to the last election. This is an extraordinary situation. Over one million people voted for National. The Herald calls Key “triumphant”. The Dominion Post label him the “poll slayer.” The rich and powerful will be delighted with this result – National is the preferred party of the capitalist class, and it is in a strong position.

We must begin with a lucid registration of defeat. Over the last six years we have argued sometimes that Key’s support is ‘brittle’ or ‘hollow.’ These results show this to be wishful thinking rather than analysis – with each election National has maintained or increased its support. To win in 2008 it is true that National needed to position themselves ‘left’, working to shed the toxic legacy they kept from the 1990s. Tens of thousands of workers remember the Employment Contracts Act, Ruthenasia, the Mother of All Budgets. So Key brought National towards the centre, keeping popular Labour policies. What he has done from there is to redefine the ‘centre’ ground – National, over the last six years, has normalised its own position in society more generally. They have worked hard at promoting a socially liberal, ‘diverse’ image of themselves. And it is no lie: this isn’t a party of whisky-soaked old homophobes and racists. There are more right-wing Maori MPs than ever before; Key voted for equal marriage rights; the coalition with the Maori Party sought to draw more social layers in to this new ‘common sense.’
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March Against New Zealand’s Shame

DSC_0649600 – 700 people marched against domestic violence, ending at parliament, today. The march was a uniting call to action to address sexual and domestic violence. There were other protests on this issue throughout the country, with the one at parliament the largest by far.

The Facebook page for the event described it as follows: Women’s Refuge, Te Ohaakii a Hine-National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together, Shakti, Relationships Aotearoa, The Pacific Islands Safety and Prevention Project, National Network of Stopping Violence Services and the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Supervised Contact Services joined together to organise the march because they see the profound social and economic impact of sexual and domestic violence in their daily work and believe it’s time to act now. [Read more…]

Ballot for industrial action by PSA members in the health sector

psaOver the first few days of August, a secret ballot for industrial action was conducted by Public Service Association (PSA) members in the health sector. The result was a resounding yes to industrial action. More than one third of the 12,000 PSA health members participated in the on-line ballot with 90% voting in favour.

Allied Health, Technical and Nursing PSA members, including Physiotherapists, Occupational therapists, Speech Language Therapists, Sterile Supply Workers, Cardiology Technicians, Public Health Nurses and Mental Health Nurses, went to the secret ballot to protest the DHBs’ 0.7% per year pay offer. With a ‘Rock star Economy’ and Bill English’s 2014 budget assurances that, “[workers] are entitled to expect a share in the economic recovery”, the 0.7% offer is a kick in the guts for health workers. [Read more…]

Condemn Anti-Semitic Attacks on John Key


We condemn the anti-Semitic defacing of National Party billboards reported over the last days. Racism serves to divide the working class, and to distract us from the real divisions in society. As socialists we are opposed to all forms of racism, regardless of who happens to be the target of racist slurs. All left-wing people should condemn these racist acts unequivocally.

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Con Devitt: One the Bosses Hated

Con Devitt


Con Devitt, an outstanding trade union militant, socialist and organizer, has died at the age of 86. Devitt, a long-time leader of the Boilermakers’ Union in Wellington, made an enormous contribution to the class struggle and the workers’ movement, especially in his important periods of leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.

From a working-class home in Glasgow, Devitt was part of the wave of post-war migration from Britain to New Zealand. Many of these migrants brought with them traditions of union solidarity and class struggle from Britain: John Findlay was another Clydeside boilermaker turned New Zealand union leader. It’s for this reason that the media and the right-wing cultivated the stereotype of the “whingeing Pom” and the outside agitator. Whatever his accent, however, Devitt spoke in a language workers – whether migrant or local – could understand. His message was to stand up for your rights and to trust in your own strength.

Boilermakers worked over 60-hour weeks at one stage, with many men leaving the industry with permanent hearing loss and little support. There was plenty for unions to fight over.

For this commitment, Devitt and his comrades in the Boilermakers’ Union earned the hatred and scorn of the ruling class, the political establishment – Labour and National – and the Wellington and national media. A 1977 commission of enquiry into the heavy engineering industry blamed closures on the unions and talked up “disruptive tactics and restrictive practices imposed by certain sections of the Auckland and Wellington boilermaker unions.” A concerted campaign of slanders against Wellington and Kawerau boilermakers led to their unions being deregistered. National Prime Minister Robert Muldoon ranted against him. The Dominion and the Evening Post editorialised against his tactics and outlook. We should take all of this as a sign he knew how to do a good job standing up for his members. [Read more…]

All the way for equal pay


Kristine Bartlett is a hero. She and her union, the SWFU, are spearheading the fight for equal pay through the courts. Last year Bartlett was in the Employment Court to argue that her miserable $14.46 an hour after 20 years experience as a caregiver breached the Equal Pay Act 1972. Her reasoning was that her pay was less than men would get for work of the same level of skill, effort and responsibility. She won. In a landmark decision the court ruled for the first time that the Act applied to comparisons between predominantly women’s jobs and men’s.

Bartlett’s employer, the rest home operator Terranova Homes & Care Ltd, appealed the decision with financial assistance from the New Zealand Aged Care Association. The case went to the Court of Appeal on 4 February 2014. The Attorney-General Chris Finlayson intervened to insist that the Court hear from the Government’s representatives because the decision could have “important public policy implications.” Indeed, thousands of women doing under-valued ‘women’s work’ like caring and cleaning jobs stand to gain if the appeal court upholds the original decision. Women’s rates of pay are on average 13% below men’s. Potentially, a huge inroad into the gender-gap is at stake. [Read more…]

Engineers and Servos Ponder Mega-Merger Union

EPMUTwo of Aotearoa’s largest unions, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) — my union — and the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU), may merge early next year. Members of both unions will vote on this in June.

With about 56,000 members, a merged union would be by far the largest private sector union in New Zealand – only about 2000 members smaller than the largest union in the country, the Public Service Association.In December, the SFWU magazine Our Voice, argued merging would mean more resources for campaigns like the Living Wage Campaign. The editorial implied a larger union could draw other unions and community groups into campaigns. Non-unionised private sector workers – who make up as much as 90% of the private sector workforce – would be more likely to join the mega-union, the editorial suggested. The latest issue of The Metal, the EPMU magazine spent even less space on the proposal, but did promise “a lot more detail about the amalgamation in a special edition of The Metal, including what it means for you and how we might work in the future”.

The EPMU and SFWU have a strong record of working together, but what do we stand to gain, or lose? [Read more…]

Rebuilding Our Unions

Union Rally

Dougal McNeill gave this talk as an introduction to one of the sessions at the ISO’s recent national conference / hui-a-tau, held in Auckland in December.

This talk is of necessity arranged in a bitsy, fragmentary, tentative way. That’s because this is the kind of year we’ve had – there has been no single event or struggle defining union struggle. And our own position, in a very modest way, is changing. We’re bigger now, more experienced, and able to try some new things. Some old ways of working aren’t going to suit us so well anymore.


I want to do four things: (1) outline the general state of union struggle; (2) look at what we’re calling ‘the political sphere’ and the unions; (3) think about how we talk about this, to ourselves and to our audience, and (4) end with some comments on what we need to be doing. [Read more…]

Auckland Action Against Poverty Welfare Impact

560983_501014533245828_1675135460_nToday I am going to give a brief overview of the recent Auckland Action Against Poverty Welfare Impact that I attended, what drives me to work in this area, and my plans to build a sustainable welfare advocacy service in Otepoti.

Firstly, my interest in welfare stems from my upbringing, living in a household sustained by the Domestic Purposes Benefit, and my personal experience being a sole parent receiving what was called the DPB before the National Government abolished it, and classed all parents as ‘jobseekers.’

A small disclaimer: I am not a “jobseeker” and no sole parent in Aotearoa is a jobseeker.  Parents have a job already, the most important job there is, to care for our babies and build healthy, happy, and capable, children.

Recent attacks on welfare effectively undermine parenting as a valid, fundamentally important function in Aotearoa. They try to set paid workers against unpaid workers, to ensure people in the paid working class attack unpaid workers instead of the real target, the ruling class. [Read more…]

Auckland Rallies for Workers’ Rights

UnionRally2Stop-work meetings in Petone, Auckland and then Christchurch this last week have been part of the campaign against National’s proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act. Yesterday’s rally drew thousands of workers.

Overall, the meeting, which lasted around forty minutes, was a lively event with an upbeat mood amongst almost 5000  workers. There were contingents from the Service and Food Workers’ Union, the Tertiary Education Union, the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation, First Union, Unite, the Maritime Union, the primary teachers’ NZEI, and the EPMU. [Read more…]