Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Aotearoa/NZ: CTU vs Red Fed

Rodney Hide, leader of the ACT Party, far right neo-liberal coalition partner in Government.

New Zealand is facing a worsening world crisis of capitalism. The end of the recession is a myth as capital has not returned to profitability. Despite being bailed out to the tune of Trillions by workers, we are headed for a global recession. Big capital has to attack workers much harder to force concessions to restore its profits. In NZ we can see this National Government, supported in power by the extreme right ACT and petty bourgeois Maori Party, making attack after attack on working class living standards and political rights to boost profits. Unemployment is up, public servants under siege, bosses are locking out workers, GST is going up to 15%, the minimum wage is declining in real terms, ACT wants youth rates to be restored. The bosses have got cuts to their ACC contributions in preparation for privatisation, tax cuts, law changes to give them access to mining in national parks, toll roads, Auckland city is being handed over to bosses to grab land, water, transport, the port etc. Both Health and Education are being privatised under the form of PPPs (public, private partnerships). 

As we warned before the 2008 election, National in power in a world crisis has to make the working class pay for the bosses crisis. How do we fight back? The most pressing task for workers is to organise to revive rank and file democracy in the unions as a platform for resistance the bosses offensive. Only strike action by a united working class can stop the bosses plan to turn NZ into a quarry of cheap raw materials and cheap labor for international capital.


The NZ Council of Trade Unions conference was in October last year. As far as leading working people in a struggle for better lives it may as well not exist. We could call it Dead Fed because all it does is push for changes in labour law to make it easier for the union officials to keep the membership of the unions contained within the bosses' law. Thus the CTU president (Helen Kelly) says the four areas unions need to get better in are 1) Make collective bargaining more accessible 2) Make union membership more available 3) Developing union leadership 4)Better resourcing for unions. She forgot to add: get out and get support for Labour to win the next election.

It's not as if the CTU is that important for the bosses' any more. Union coverage of the whole workforce is at 22%, but mostly in the state sector: only 9% of private sector workers are union members. But what they cannot count on is that in a crisis when workers are under attack and youth unemployment is around 30%, youth rates likely to be re-introduced to hold down wages, the minimum wage increased by 50cents and hour, the 90 day fire at will likely to become 180 days etc, then workers may blow the lid off the industrial law and do what the bosses are now doing with impunity – breaking the law by locking out workers. For every threatened lockout we need a wildcat strike. Lockouts are the bosses locking workers out of the workplace very often in breach of the law. A wildcat is a workers strike or occupation that is not controlled by the bureaucracy and does not confine itself to the labour law. Because the bosses' know such fights are coming as their crisis deepens, the CTU is preparing itself for the role of strike-breaker.

There is another way and that is to revive the unions as fighting, democratic organs of the working class. Some hopeful signs are there. Unite! union has begun to mobilise non-unionised workers. We need to develop this fight. We need to fight to gain more than collective agreements that give members something more than a negotiation system and union apparatus. For example instead of just a union financed publicity campaign to get a referendum to get parliament to raise the minimum wage; fight now for every union to raise the bottom wage rate in every collective agreement to $15 an hour, now! -And increasing to $16 on the day GST increasing - if/when that kick was to happen. But the only way to make this a widespread working class movement is to unite all sectors of the working class, particularly employed with unemployed around a decent minimum wage and benefit. But to do this we need to take back the unions from the bureaucracy and impose rank and file democracy. We need to aim for a new Red Fed.

A Red Fed

Back in the early 20 century a number of militant unions broke out of the Industrial, Conciliation and Arbitration Act (IC&A) which was the equivalent of today's ERA (Employment Relations Act). They took wildcat strike action between 1908 and 1913 and became known as the Red Fed. The unions were mainly those in mining and transport the most concentrated work forces in the colonial economy. This federation was based on rank and file union democracy and fought the 1912 Waihi strike and the 1913 General Strike. They rightly indentified the bosses' employment law as a "leg iron" on the working class, and deliberately worked outside of that law. This scared the shit out of the ruling class who had to call out the farmers as special police 'Cossacks' as well as the army to fight the unionsed working class on the picket lines. The union bureaucracy moved to form the Labour Party to divert the militant working class into parliament where they could be contained and pacified.
Since that time the NZ working class struggle has been repeatedly mislead into the ruling class’ parliamentary circus by union leaders / Labour party promises. Both the official union leaderships and the Labour Party have undermined the independence of the working class from the state by tying workers into a “better deal” from a labour government. This has effectively dis-armed working people from the experience of taking independent action to force the bosses to meet our needs.

We want the development of rank and file workers, ordinary members becoming union activists, for participation and democracy in the unions, and for solidarity in practice – on the picket lines. Not just solidarity in words at conference sing-a-longs. What sort of leadership does the CTU develop? – by their current example they produce candidates for the Labour Party and vote gatherers for the Labour Party (or any other Parliamentary Pack that promises to maintain basic democratic rights for unions to co-exist within capitalism). The CTU is the life support system of the Labour Party and so long as it runs the unions workers will be forced to keep voting for a Party that constantly betrays the working class. It is the CTU that backs the Labour Party, and argues for working people to support it as a "lesser evil" to the National Party.

We say union resources should be based on the membership – and accountable / responsible to the membership. Take the resources straight from the employer by fighting for more from collective agreements. The danger of handouts (with strings attached) from government training schemes or education allowances is the strings attached – and the impact if the money was cut. Democratic unions must be based on maximum independence from the ruling class and their government.

All of these directions from the CTU extend and protect the interests of unions – without necessarily doing anything at all for the workers - membership! It takes the fight of ordinary union members to put the working class solidarity into the unions.

Stop ACC cuts

We want to stop the capitalist cuts to ACC, but ask the Union leadership how and they reply - by electing the Labour Party! This is what the officials endorsements / backing of a publicity campaign and token protests amounts to. Publicity that "it was better under Labour". Really the quality of service ACC provided was getting lowered under the Labour government as well, when ACC like every Public Service (social wages) had been getting a thousand tiny cuts. The Labour government was still trying to restore profitability to the capitalist class by effectively lowering ACC premiums.

Dump National Standards

The capitalist attacks on education (less education – more achieving "national standards") the union leadership is not talking about fighting these: only talking about a time of trialing of them. Teachers are trained to learn the needs of the kids in the classroom and to teach according to the most relevant educational goals. We say dump national standards! Real union leadership is going to have to come from ordinary teachers - union members – demand mass stopwork meetings to debate national standards - and to vote on industrial action to boycott / ban any work about testing or reporting for National's Standards.

Again the Labour Party as government was little better than the National standards party, they had already forced teachers into more testing and less education through the NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) system. The leaderships of education unions need to measure the amount of time wasted of testing and marking and to guard against this being expanded – and in fact fight to roll back the losses of educational contact time (and preparation time).

Jobs for All

Rather than fighting for full employment and jobs for all; in the last CTU conference, they big noted the redundancy protection legislation, a pathetic measure from the Labour Party. While the Labour Party argues with the National government over the percentage of unemployment – the union leaders have with no plan to end unemployment.

We say reduce the working week with no loss of pay (4 days work). Introduce penal rates for anti-social hours and for more than 32hrs worked. This would take international working class solidarity to achieve these goals – improving wages and conditions internationally, and realistically it would take working class control of production to keep: Socialism!

Since the Trade Union Federation (TUF) unions reunited with the other unions in the Council of Trade Unions this united trade union leadership has been unable to offer any real leadership for workers in struggle. These leaders of the working class point to the Parliamentary Labour Party as the solution to all working class struggles. They offer no leadership but the Labour Party.

The CTU is as rotten as the Labour Party that they continue to support. Rotten since they both are parasites on the working class, giving as little to workers as they are forced to, while keeping their real role for the bosses – as the brakes on working class struggle.

MUNZ Back in Labour Fold

The Maritime Union NZ is back in the parliamentary paddock/ sheep pen. They have renewed their affiliation to the Labour Party, with a conference remit extending MUNZ parliamentary blinkers to any other 'left' ally for Labour. MUNZ members should know well enough that pickets and direct action win fights to protect workers – not courts or circus acts at the beehive. It is the lack of leadership from union officials to take direct action in solidarity of workers in struggle, which leaves parliament looking like the only option.

The union movement might have re-united in the CTU, but only to be the union rump of the Labour Party and to continue to mislead workers into the parliament. That is, voting fodder for the Labour Party and its parliamentary illusion of reforming capitalism. The false hope that it is possible to reform capitalism; to put some 'better' rules on capitalism, to stop those naughty finance capitalists. The leadership of the working class as represented by the union leadership has shown that once again it only works to reform capitalism when capitalism cannot be reformed accept as a result of militant struggle when bosses are forced to make concessions to stay in power.

More Wildcats!

A revived Red Fed would create the working class base for the formation of a new workers party based on Trade Union militants and workers councils that would contest the Labour Party in as many seats as possible and under MMP challenge Labour from inside parliament as well as outside. As the NZ economy reverts back towards a giant farm and mine the only unions that will have any real power are those that run transport and communications. They rather than service workers can bring the country to a halt. But much work needs to be done to unionise this workforce as it has been turned into a subcontracted workforce where workers are forced to compete with one another. MUNZ members have gone along with this subcontracting as much as any union. The rot has to be reversed starting with rank and file democracy!

Marx pulled apart the workings of capitalism and described the economic forces within capitalism that drive it into crises, wars and attacks on the working class. We cannot reform this capitalist beast: we need to overthrow it by taking control – for workers control of all production including the financial system (we might still need some way of accounting). Revolutionaries fight for such as program inside the unions and any working class party that emerges from the struggles ahead. We call this a Transitional Program of immediate demands such as freedom of expression and assembly (against Search and Surveillance etc) through demands such as jobs for all on a living wage with a sliding scale so that hours are reduced without loss of pay until all those who want to work, can work (30 hour week to start). But capitalism cannot do this, so the fight for such basic needs to survive brings workers up against the need to take power and form a workers government to plan production for human need and not profit.

  • Form worker activists networks as a left wing within the unions. 
  • For a Red Federation of Labour.
  • Turn lockouts into strikes, and strikes into occupations of worksites, and set up workers control of each worksite, through elected ( and recallable) worksite leaders.
  • For Workers Councils: local councils of workers to run the towns and cities. Made up of representatives elected (and recallable) by the local worksites.
  • For a Workers Government to plan a socialist economy. (Only by the above three demands being met can a real workers government be formed – ie. not through a vote every 3 yrs).
  • For a socialist federation of the Pacific.
  • For world socialism.

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