Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Zealand: Auckland Port employers out to smash port workers union

The National and Act Government's policy, like in 1951, is to smash the unions and cut labour costs to make workers pay for the bosses crisis. Maritime Union NZ (MUNZ) Local 13 is fighting contracting out to non-union labor, a world-wide trend. At the same time the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in North America is up against a major attack by ship owners to smash it and de-unionise the docks on the West Coast. Currently ILWUlocal 21 is resisting the Export Grain Terminal corporation at the port of Longview in Washington. The ILWU leadership is trying to keep the protest within the limits of the bosses' law while Occupy is building community wide pickets in support of the union. Occupy showed that by uniting with rank and file unionists it could shut down West Coast Ports on Dec 12. This is the way that MUNZ can win its fight against casualisation at the Ports of Auckland. This is the way to unite the working class internationally to make the bosses pay for their own crisis!

A Union busting fight

This is so obviously a setup to take on a key union with a strong record of militancy in NZ – the Waterside Workers Union now part of Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ). It has all the hallmarks of the 1951 lockout which was a setup between the Holland National Govt and the US to use the ‘red scare’ to break the unions and enforce the direct rule of capital in NZ. Expect to see the NACT regime use this fight to bring in new legislation in an attempt to smash the unions as the only really effective opposition to privatisation, and return to the law of the jungle in the labour market.

The reason for this attack is not the greed or bloody mindedness of the boss class, but the drive for profits in a worsening global crisis where is it necessary to force down wages and working conditions for the ruling class to survive. Their so-called financial recession was not due to corruption or bad management, but was a symptom of falling profits in industry which produced a flood of speculative fictitious capital. And having baled out their banks, and some countries, the bosses are now forced to restructure industry to screw out more profits from the working people. So the drive to cut costs at all costs become an attack on workers wages and conditions in the name of "productivity". In reality, productivity is the capacity of workers to produce value, most of which goes in profits to the capitalist class. Increasing "productivity" then is the same as increasing the rate of exploitation of wage labour. 

Austerity is Global

The attack on labour is global, since the bosses crisis is global and rapidly becoming an international depression. And as usual the NACTs are following the US and Britain in imposing these attacks on workers. They import new Departmental officials from Britain to head Social Development, Janet Grossman, who made her name by making clients pay for phone calls to claim benefits, and a new Secretary of Education whose former job in the UK was to set up Charter Schools. NZ has no shortage of right wing Think Tanks that spew out every toxic right wing concept in social services, management and labour relations. Not only that we have a Prime Minister who has direct links to Wall Street and a the CEO of  Ports of Auckland Tony Gibson who once worked for Maersk, the monopoly shipping line. Every policy the NACTs have in mind to attack workers living standards and cut taxes and social spending is called by the universal name the bosses give to making us pay for their crisis - "austerity".

"Austerity" is what Mohamed Bouazizi faced when his fruit stall was trashed by the local authorities; what US workers face when they lose their homes to foreclosures; when their unions are smashed and unionists replaced by scab labour; when welfare cuts are blamed on welfare cheats; when student fees are bumped up; when workplaces close down and workers are sacked; when taxes and prices rise and wages fall. Austerity is what the Greek workers are facing when facing new taxes they are handing their kids over into state care. Austerity is what young Chinese workers face threatening mass suicide when their employer reneges on a wage increase. "Austerity" is simply a bullshit word to make it seem that for workers there is no alternative to the pain. TINA. 

The Fightback begins

But things are now changing. The suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi sparked off the Arab Spring. The occupation of Tahrir Square was quickly followed by uprisings across the Arab world. Dictators fell. Some like Mubarak left the army in control. Other like Gaddafi used heavy weapons to put down a protest and his regime was overthrown 5 months later. Bashar el Saad in Iraq, the Saudis and the Bahraini ruling class have retained power by barbarous killings. Yet like all the other protests, repression has fuelled more resistance as the fear disappears. 

When the Arab Spring jumped the Mediterranean to Greece and Spain the squares filled up with Generation Zeros. Governments fell but 'austerity' regimes were voted in or appointed by coalitions to drive through more attacks on workers. Right across southern Europe from Greece to Ireland, the masses are primed ready for a new social movement to unite and organise a powerful resistance. But they are contained and disorganised by the traditional party and union leaderships who are in the pay of the capitalists. They are waiting for the example of how to unite the global working class as an independent force to take control of their own lives. That movement was begun in Egypt, continued in Greece and then jumped the Atlantic to take the form of Occupy Wall St. From its beginnings, the Occupy movement has signalled that it has broken with the institutions of the bourgeois state by virtue of the symbolic occupation of public space against the rule of private property.  

Occupy Movement is born

This symbolic occupation became a real occupation when the state responded with police force. When Occupy Oakland was evicted by the cops it met and called for a General Strike on Nov 2 last. 30,000 people turned out to blockade the docks. Then the US West Coast Occupied movement shut down the West Coast ports on Dec 12. Occupy Oakland and other evicted West Coast Occupations began organising a mass picket at Longview against Export Grain Terminal corporation (EGT). EGT is a joint venture between three conglomerates: U.S.-based Bunge North America, Japan-based Tochu Corporation, and South Korean-based STX Pan Ocean, that wants to ‘outsource’ ILWU jobs to contracted scab workers.

The rank and file of the unions immediately recognised common cause with Occupy, and rallied behind Occupy Oakland and others when they faced eviction. Jack Heyman, a militant rank and file member of the ILWU welcomed Occupy Oakland as bringing a fresh impetus to the union movement. Occupy has not learned to distinguish between the labour bureaucracy and the rank and file yet but faces a steep learning curve over Longview. This is because the leaderships of the unions regarded the Occupy movement as a threat to their control of the unions and their privileges of office. Initially they refused to back the West Coast Shutdown as interference in union business, but now facing the growing resistance to the union busting attack on Local 21 at Longview the union leadership has declared its hand. 

Labour bureaucracy opposes Occupy

When the ILWU rank and file and Occupy joined forced to build a Caravan for a mass picket in defence of Local 21 the ILWU leadership came out with a letter against strike action in solidarity that would break the Taft-Hartley Act that bans by law solidarity strikes. It therefore refused to call for all the docks to shut down and called on the ranks to keep their distance from the Occupy picket. The ranks replied saying as they had in Oakland on November 3 and all the West Coast Ports on December 12, that the members would observe the Occupy picket (and of course join it).  So despite strike ban law, rank and file groups are calling for wildcat strikes to hit the port owners where it hurts. 

 This fight came to a head in Seattle on the 6 of January where a joint meeting of ILWU Local 21 rank and file and Occupy Seattle met to build more support for the join picket. The meeting was physically disrupted by officials of ILWU who insisted on reading out the official letter from the leadership against solidarity strikes. The response of the meeting was to call 'mike check' and form a physical barrier to the disruptive elements. The call then went up "repeal Taft Hartley!" So while reactionary elements were prepared to sacrifice the Longview jobs which would be a major defeat for unions as a whole, the outcome of this meeting was a huge political step forward that ended in victory. The rank and file of the ILWU and of the Occupy Movement were in accord that a mass picket to defend the jobs of the dockers cannot be leg-ironed by the Taft Hartley Act. So now they know that the only way to 'repeal' a reactionary bosses' law is to break it!

The mass picket

Jack Heyman's words to Occupy Oakland ring more true now than ever. The union ranks and Occupy must unite to advance the struggle of the working class to smash the 'austerity' regimes the world over. The way to make this happen is for Occupy to take up the cause mobilise the 99% and build massive community public pickets of the docks and all other workplaces where workers are under attack. In Egypt it is recognised that Tahrir square would not have been occupied without the years of strikes in that country. In Spain and Greece the sit-down occupations of the squares are becoming sit-down occupations of Government Departments and workplaces. 

The Generation Zero that is educated and unemployed is now joining with employed workers to occupy the assets the ruling class. Occupy Oakland targeted the docks that are owned by a Goldman Sachs subsidiary. Now that the Occupy movement has declared its support for the unions fighting for their survival a major convergence of the forces of the working class is beginning. The mass picket is now becoming a reality. It is the only occupation that the bosses really fear, the occupation of their private property and capacity to screw their profits out of the labour of the workers. 

The Dockers fight is International

The support of Occupy for dockers is no accident. Dockworkers are among the most militant and political of all unions shutting down the ports to protest the killing of Oscar Grant, the Israeli attack on the Peace Flotilla, Apartheid South Africa, dictatorships in Chile and El Salvador, and the Iraq war etc. The ILWU is famous in the US for being the union that refused to handle cargo going to fascist regimes in the 1930s, in the same way that the Waterside Workers Union in New Zealand refused to load scrap iron to fascist Japan when it was occupying China. During the 1951 lockout in NZ, the ILWU and other dockers unions refused to handle ships loaded by scab labour. So from the days of the Red Feds when the Wobblies sailed all around the Pacific organising workers there has been a tradition of internationalist trade unionism between dockers unions.

Keep a close eye on the big fight at Longview, Washington State, where the big shipowners and corporates are trying to smash the ILWU and bring in scab labour to handle grain shipments. It will be a showdown between the capitalist monopolies and an emerging new force in the united working class. It will make or break the unions. That is why the working class on the West Coast is rallying behind this struggle on the basis of an 'injury to one is an injury to all'. More than ever, community groups like Million Worker March and Labor Black and BrownOscar Grant Committee, and migrant workers groups as well as Labor Councils are joining forces as never before.

[Update Feb 15 a new contract was signed between ILWU 21 and EGT. Occupy Portland commented it was a victory for the union and its supporters in Occupy as part of an ongoing war against the 1%. However on March 15 Howard Keylor has reported that “this is the worst contract imposed on a longshore local that I have ever seen.” It makes major hire and fire concessions to the bosses granted by the union officials scared that a mass picket that mobilised the unorganised working class would expose their unwillingness to break out of the legal straightjacket of the Taft-Hartley Act that makes penalises unions for ‘wildcat’ strikes.]

Similarly, the fight at Ports of Auckland against MUNZ Local 13 refusal to accept casualisation and contracting out, is a make-or-break fight. It has all the hallmarks of 1951 and a right-wing government determined to break the union movement. You can bet that the Labour Party will sit this one out preaching "neither for nor against" as Walter Nash did in 1951. Mayor Len Brown and Opposition leader Shearer do not want to get involved in a 'class war'. Nor will support and fundraising nationally and internationally determine the outcome. International solidarity is welcome but while it works within the labour law it won’t stop the defeat of MUNZ. The ILWU refusal to handle ships loaded by scab labour in NZ didn't win the fight. 

Defend MUNZ union workers!

What is needed is mass pickets to stop contract labour take away the jobs of the union members. That is the only language that bosses understand. The Port is owned by the people of Auckland who have seen off several attempts to flog it off. This is a more determined showdown this time. What is being defended here is the right to unionise and the right to a job and a living wage. The capitalists and their spin doctors are using this fight to promote privatisation. So defending the jobs of union members at POA is taking a stand against selling off public assets. 

It is also a wakeup call for workers to organise independently to rebuild the union movement and not rely on a so-called ‘left’ majority of Auckland Council under Brown or a future Labour Government to undo the damage. Labour is into managing capitalism by increasing 'productivity' i.e. exploitation of workers. "Independently" means organising and relying on the strength of the working class, not the media, lawyers or politicians. It means forming strike committees to build solidarity, support committees to back up and provide for a mass picket, and defence committees to protect the picket against state forces. In 1951 the military was used to break the strike, just as today the bosses are planning to  use the military to break Local 21 in Longview.

To build a mass picket at POA to stop the scabs is the next step. That means calling on all unions to rally to the picket. The logic of the picket is that of an Occupation. By occupying a workplace you prevent scab labour from taking your jobs. By making it an Occupation you invite everyone who identifies with the Occupy movement to make the labour movement their favourite cause until we win! The immediate step is for MUNZ and Occupy Auckland to form a joint Strike Committee like that formed between Occupy Oakland the and ILWU to defend Local 21.  

  • For a joint Strike Committee between MUNZ Local 13 and Occupy Auckland and all other working class organisations committed to the struggle!
  • No to sackings, No to casualisation, No to contracting out, No to scabbing on the union!
  • Solidarity with ILWU and the Occupy Movement resisting 'austerity regimes' everywhere! Build international action to hit the monopoly shipowners!
  • Down with the bosses austerity regimes making workers pay for their crisis!
  • We will not pay for their crisis, make the bosses pay!
  • No confidence in Auckland City Council or Ports of Auckland who are in the pockets of the corporates!
  • For strike action in solidarity with the MUNZ workers fight! 
  • Down with the NACT government and its anti-worker austerity policies!
  • No to privatisation, part privatisation or PPPs of state owned assets!
  • Whose Port! Our Port! That’s the cry of Occupy! 
  • No to privatisation, put the ports under workers management and 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 Socialist Aotearoa in a Socialist Asia/Pacific!

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