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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Union News – Feb 2017

 

lyttelton-portLyttleton Port Strike

On 28 January this website posted a report on the Lyttleton port dispute. This is a brief update.

The port company’s legal challenge to the Maritime Union’s strike notice for the Waitangi Day long weekend failed clearing the way for the 3–day strike. The Maritime Union has given notice of a strike from 17-19 February, in addition to the notice for 11-12 February previously reported.

 

Junior Doctors – New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association

Junior doctors staged a national 73 hour strike from 17 to 20 January. This follows a 48 hour strike in October. The issue: fatigue. The doctors are seeking more reasonable hours of work in their negotiations over a Multi-Employer Collective Agreement with the District Health Boards. Currently they can be made to work for seven nights in a row and up to 12 day shifts in a row. The union has been campaigning for a maximum of four nights and 10 day shifts in a row.

In an interview with RNZ, the NZRDA’s general secretary, Deborah Powell, explained that a compromise agreement had been worked out in negotiations, but the employer side had not been able to make a formal offer without consulting the DHBs’ chief executives. At the time of writing, the union was still waiting to find out whether the employers were willing to sanction the draft agreement. [Read more…]

Class struggle – key to liberation

auckland-health-workers-strike

Auckland health workers strike 2015. Photo: RNZ

Shomi Yoon gave this talk to the International Socialism Day School, Newtown, Wellington, last month.

It seems obvious that we need to understand the world in order to change it. Socialist strategy and tactics for liberation is not only about the downfall of capitalism but also for genuine liberation for all.

A Marxist understanding of class and understanding that this is the central divide in society is crucial. But more than this, it’s the working class that can transform society for genuine liberation. I want to contest the idea that putting class at the centre of our analysis means that other forms of oppression are secondary in importance to class – far from it – it provides a concrete analysis of where the oppression comes from and how we can overcome it. [Read more…]

Tell Otago to #LoveHumanities

love-humanities-rallyBy Seb Hepburn

Last week between 300-400 people gathered outside the Union building at Otago University to protest proposed cuts to the Humanities division. Up to 20 jobs are at risk across the History, Anthropology and Archaeology, English, Languages, and Music departments, and the TEU has been vocal in its campaign against the cuts. There was a prior protest of similar size in August, and a smaller one outside a lecture theatre where Bill English was speaking in September. The tree next to the Union building had been adorned with knitted and paper hearts, the latter of which bore messages of support for the humanities. Once the crowd has assembled we began marching to the steps opposite the clock tower, led by a bagpiper. [Read more…]

Mourn for the dead, fight for the living!

161014-helen-kelly_jpgby Jen Wilson

At this time we remember and honour long time union leader Helen Kelly, a brave and compassionate person who mourned with and comforted the families of workers killed at work; Forestry workers, the Pike River miners, Charanpreet Dhaliwal, aged only 22, beaten to death on his first night on the job as a security guard. So many dead because their lives and safety were not valued by their employers. Standing beside the grieving families Helen Kelly demanded justice, the prosecution of their employers who put profits above the lives of workers. She shined a light onto failed business practices which made these deaths inevitable and demanded and worked for change. Her death is a great loss. [Read more…]

Workers can run the world

NUW workers in Australia occupying a Dandenong factory, 2015

NUW workers in Australia occupying a Dandenong factory, 2015

Gowan Ditchburn gave this talk to the Auckland branch of the International Socialists in May.

Let us examine on of my favourite things on Earth, Democracy. No, not that silly parliamentary kind where you vote every few years. I mean real democracy. Control by the people. Actual control not sending people to parliament to argue like children for three years and pass a few laws which change very little. I mean getting to decide how everything is done. From the Economy and the distribution of goods and resources, to the planning of our cities. All this placed in the hands of the people. My aim is to bring you an interesting look at a different, better and much more democratic way of doing things. [Read more…]

Defeat the Bill! The struggle against the Employment Contracts Bill, 1991

Stop Contracts Billby Dougal McNeill

 

‘We’ll need to go on strike, an ongoing strike.’  That’s how Jane Otuafi, a delegate in the Engineers’ Union, responded in March 1991 to the recently elected National government’s plan for an Employment Contracts Act. [1] ‘A general strike is the only answer,’ job delegate Sa Leutele of the Northern Distribution Union agreed. ‘I’ve had several meetings to explain to the boys that the only way we can fight is to stick together. Otherwise nobody will survive after the Bill.’ [2]

Leutele’s words were prophetic. The Employment Contracts Act, once it passed, had a devastating effect on workers’ rights and living standards in New Zealand. It dealt a body blow to the trade union movement, one from which we’ve never recovered. Union membership almost halved between 1991 and 1995, with union density going from 41.5% to 21.7%, and has staggered in the private sector ever since. Workers’ organisation and confidence – expressed in working days ‘lost’ to strike activity – has been hit harder, with historic low levels of industrial struggle through the 1990s and 2000s. ‘The ECA,’ as Brian Roper puts it, ‘effectively deunionised and casualised large sectors of the workforce.’ [3] The viciously unequal New Zealand we live in now is shaped by the legacy of the ECA: 10% of the population owning 52% of the wealth; casualization and low pay the norm across the service industries; homeless families living in cars a ‘new reality’; and racialized poverty resulting in a Māori unemployment rate twice the national average. [4] The union movement, a basic line of defence for working people, held this back. It’s no wonder, then, that National set out to destroy the unions as effective fighting tools. [Read more…]