Thursday, June 28, 2012

Class Struggle in Aotearoa/NZ

Auckland Portworkers (Wharfies) mass rally March 10, 2012
The capitalist system is not working: profits are falling for the capitalist class. Their solution is to make the working class pay for their crisis. They are on the attack, across the world, the working class is under attack. In NZ National-Act support the bosses who are attacking unions and forcing down wages and conditions. National-Act is a government of the bosses. De-unionisation deregulates the labour market and lowers labour costs. They leave NZ a cheap labour country. This is a direct result of competitive pressure on primary industries in the global downturn. We look at the emergence of open class struggle in two key export industries in Aotearoa – Port workers, and Meat workers. There is no parliamentary solution to this all out attack on workers. We need a mass revolutionary party to fight for a Workers Government and a socialist planned economy!

Port workers struggles

he fight between shipowners, port owners and wharfies (portworkers) in Aotearoa is about driving down shipping costs to restore profits to the monopoly shipping lines. It is little surprise then that Ports of Auckland backed by the new right NACT regime came out in 2011 hell-bent on smashing the Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ) the union covering wharfies, to drive down wages by contracting out jobs.

The board members of the ports of Auckland were picked as part of the restructure of Auckland in the invention of a Supercity. Where the elected Auckland Regional Council had run the port and used profits to subsidise public transport developments, the new board was hand-picked by Rodney Hide on behalf of global finance capitalism. The port was set up as Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL), prepared for privatisation. It is ready for the next right-wing dominated council to privatise.

Already the Ports of Auckland have contracted out work. They set up Conlinxx as a 70% POAL owned contractor that drives shuttles moves containers between ports and the “Wiri inland port”. The other (30%) player in this is NZL, a Tauranga based capitalist logistics contractor. This is a part privatisation at the port. Other private contractors getting in behind the gates are Spotless and Labour hire companies.

National-Act attacks on the working class continue to create unemployment and at the same time they harass the unemployed into accepting any job at low wages. Marx described the unemployed as a reserve-army of labour: A part of the working class that is ready for work. Unless the union movement starts to protect the unemployed – the capitalist class will continue to use the unemployed as scabs in fights with organised unions.

As a direct result of the POAL dispute the NACT regime is writing new labour laws which support the bosses walking away from negotiations and screwing the working class and dumping unions completely. The new legislation will allow bosses to lockout workers and replace them legally to smash the unions.

The Labour Party plays it “safe”: Neither for nor against the wharfies. Auckland Mayor Len Brown and Opposition leader David Shearer don’t want to takes sides in a class war. They play the roles the capitalist class allows them – and are proven to be ineffective for workers needs in this fight.

While the current situation has reached a stalemate and no further contracting out is happening, workers have lost wages during the recent strikes and lockouts, and are now subject to total video surveillance on the job. Unless the union learns the lessons of its failure to mobilise the wider working class support to shut down the port, it is only a matter of time before the next round of attacks under the new labour law ‘reforms’ take place.

Break the labour law!  

Those labour supporters and union leaders who continue to think these attacks are just “rogue’ employers and possible to control those “bad faith” employers with “good laws” are foolish. Capitalist crisis is the underlying cause of these attacks on the working class as the capitalist class tries to restore their profits at the expense of the working class. Parliament will not tame capitalism. Only the working class taking control of ALL the workplaces internationally can end this crisis ridden system and build an economy planned to meet the needs.

The existing union leadership continues to follow the legal road when the capitalist state has them legally cornered. To break the law would jeopardise their role as the agents of capital in the unions. Under capitalist law unions are tamed: Real pickets (that shutdown the workplace) or “illegal” strikes risk financial penalties on unions and their officials. That is the way the capitalist state has neutered the official unions. We have to look back to unions who refused to operate under the bosses laws, for an example of unions who refused to be tied down by the capitalist laws: the Red Feds. Workers need unions since they give us the opportunity to organise collectively, but we also need maximum independence from the capitalist class.

There are two areas of rank and file struggle when unions have been tamed. We fight within the unions, to raise demands for the needs of workers to be met – and run into the limits of unions working within the system. So that we can be as organised as possible, and so every worker learns that unions are limited by capitalism within capitalism. We fight outside the union –as a party we aim to organise the wider working class. For example the occupy movement in California demonstrated how it could unite with rank and file unionists to shut down West Coast ports even for a few hours.

Further, the dispute at Longview proved that non-unionised workers in Occupy could join forces with the ILWU rank and file shut down the port to force the employers to negotiate a truce (agreement) with the union. In the process the union officials are exposed as doing deals to keep the lid on a union revolt that also organises non-union workers. Thus we can build a new labour movement uniting organised and un-organised workers by fighting for democratic, fighting unions that break from the bureaucracy and the bourgeois labour laws.

Meat workers struggles

The fight between Meat company bosses and Meat workers is also about casualising labour to drive down wage costs and the price of meat shipped offshore during a global capitalist crisis. NZs competitive advantage in producing meat for export depends on driving down labour costs further than its competitors.

The recent round of attacks on meat workers was started by the CMP (Canterbury Meat Packers part of the ANZCO group) who used a 65 day lockout at its plant in Rangitikei to force a 20% pay cut. ANZCO Foods Ltd, is jointly owned by the directors and managers, Itoham Food Inc and Nippon Suisan Kaisha Ltd. “Sir” Graeme Harrison is the Chairman of the Board and was awarded Wellington businessman of the year.

On 17th November 2011 another 50 NZMWU members from branches across the country converged on the plant as well as members of many other unions, joining the locked out workers in a 200-strong mass picket. Rather than let the scabs confront the reinforced picket the bosses closed the plant down for the day. This was a real picket because it shut down the plant. However the working class needs to be ready to do this for more than one day i.e. indefinitely, until the bosses concede to the needs of the working class.

Talleys – Affco tried the same as ANZCO, locking out the members of the Meat Workers Union at its plants while continuing to run on a scab workforce. Some families were split between those still working and those on picket lines! As we wrote in an earlier issue a picket that cannot stop family members from crossing it is not a picket! The only way for workers to shut down the meat works is for real pickets that stop the scabs.

Because of the weakness of the token pickets it was the Iwi leaders who came to the rescue. Iwi politics became the negotiators after Tainui workers put pressure on iwi leaders to help with negotiations. Contrary to the official union line, it was not working class solidarity but tribal ties to Iwi capitalism that threatened the Talley family to resolve the dispute.

Class not ‘family’ solidarity

The two meat workers disputes highlight what is progressive and reactionary in the NZ working class. At Fielding working class solidarity shut down the plant for a day showing that the way forward is the mass picket that defies the labour law. At the Talley plants families were split and the appeal to the Tainui leaders to pressure the Talley family was the result of working class weakness. Pressure by Iwi capitalists on Meat bosses has more to do with the backroom deals between bosses than trade union struggle. It poses the question put to Class Struggle by one Tainui worker after the settlement; why do we need unions?

Under the impact of the global crisis, NZ is reverting back to the extractive colony of the late 19th century when its role in the world economy was to provide raw materials for the mother countries. This trend will be reinforced by the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that will re-colonise NZ. The only resistance that will succeed against global capitalism will be a mass movement of workers and poor farmers united across the whole Pacific to prevent the exploitation of raw materials and land in what is a rip, shit, bust process of recolonisation. Today this struggle cannot be won by indigenous struggles such as that of Maori nationalism. Maori are now divided along class lines with Iwi bosses voting for privatisation of assets, while the vast majority of Maori are at the bottom of the working class. We need to unite along class lines nationally and internationally across the whole Pacific to take back and take control of the resources we need to survive.

· We need to prepare for Strikes, Occupations and Workers Control!

· Mass pickets to defend the jobs, and protect union workers! Mass pickets to shut down workplaces!

· Occupy against the 1%, workers control!

· For Occupations and Nationalisations without compensation under workers control!

· For a General Strike to defeat the NACTs and for a mass Workers Party based on the rank and file of the unions!

· For a Workers’ Government and planned socialist economy!

· For a Socialist Aotearoa in a Socialist Asia/Pacific!

From Class Struggle No 100 May-June 2012
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