Monday, October 30, 2006
Ovens is the Northern Region Secretary of the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) which represents many of the affected workers, along with the Engineering and Manufacturing Workers Union (EPMU).
On Friday, at the pre-conference meeting of Labour affiliated unions, Ovens acquainted Finance Minister Michael Cullen with the latest Air NZ proposals to outsource the jobs of 1700 frontline and baggage-handling staff to private contractors.
These proposals mean the workers’ existing employment agreements would lapse and they would be forced to accept cuts in wages and conditions on the pain of not being rehired by the outside contractors. Air NZ has told the workers they can only avoid outsourcing by accepting an ‘in house’ solution that would make savings of $20 million a year at the workers’ expense.
This move, along with similar ones in other areas of the company’s operation, threaten to turn this strategic transport asset that is more than eighty per cent owned by the people of New Zealand into what Ovens described as a "virtual company"; just a brand name with very few directly employed workers.
"Unions to Govt: Save our jobs" (front page headline of Monday’s NZ Herald)
At the remit workshop on Saturday, Ovens succeeded in getting an anti-privatisation remit put on the conference floor for discussion. This resolution reaffirmed the Labour Party’s "commitment to the principle of a democratic society’s right to choose public ownership, social goals and non-market answers over market economics answer to economic issues ...".
Ovens was designated to speak in support of the remit at the Sunday plenary session. Her call on behalf of the unions for the Labour-led Government to buy back the remaining small percentage of privately-owned shares in Air NZ was enthusiastically applauded by the seven hundred delegates.
The call she made for the Government to amend the appropriate legislation so that central and local government can directly intervene in the public interest in the management of state and local-government owned enterprises was also supported, as was the appeal for the Government to urge the board of Air NZ to oppose the company management’s contracting-out moves.
Ovens, SFWU National Secretary John Ryall and EPMU head Andrew Little met privately with Prime Minister Helen Clark on Saturday afternoon to communicate their opposition to the outsourcing strategy of Air NZ. It is understood they received a sympathetic hearing.
Labour conference finds its voice
It is somewhat ironic that Ovens, so recently a leader of the Alliance, was instrumental in "putting the ‘Labour’ back into the Labour Government" (as NZ Herald political commentator John Armstrong put it). Armstrong observed that rank-and-file delegates combined with the union affiliates to remind the government that instead of a high-skilled, high wage economy, many workers are experiencing loss of jobs and conditions through restructuring and outsourcing by cost-cutting managers. He said that their frustration was not surprising, but he found it surprising that it was expressed so openly at a Labour Party conference.
"For years," he wrote, "Labour Party conferences have been dead zones when it comes to genuine debate – something sacrificed to preserve an image of complete and utter unity.
"Quite why the party should suddenly find its voice, if only in mild fashion, might have several explanations."
Armstrong surmised that it might be because members were inspired by the celebration of the Labour Party’s 90-year heritage and they felt the need for renewal and/or reaffirmation of ‘core values’. He also thought they might have been emboldened by the fallibility shown by the party leadership over the election spending fiasco.
In my estimation, a more likely reason that conference delegates found their "voice" was that they have been galvanised by the attacks on Labour and the unions by enemies of the working class. The implications of the election of a fundamentalist, far-right, National-led government are too grave to allow to occur. The recent month-long lock-out of 600 distribution workers by Progressive Enterprises is a warning that cannot be ignored.
On the other hand, the support given by fellow unionists and the wider community to the Progressive workers has reminded everyone how strong ‘the people’ are when they are mobilised. What better motivation could there be for Labour members to reclaim their conference and speak out?
It must be said that Ovens clearly helped the Labour conference to "find its voice". Without her determined intervention, the "public ownership" remit would not have been discussed on the conference floor.
From Alliance to Labour
Ovens left the Alliance to join Labour earlier this year at the urging of SFWU delegates who were supporting her in the election for the position SFWU northern region secretary. The issue of public ownership and control of strategic economic assets that Ovens helped advance to the centre stage of the Labour conference would have met with equally strong support at an Alliance gathering. She found that Labour conference delegates shared many of the same concerns as members of the Alliance.
Ovens must be heartened to have found such a strong echo for her ‘Alliance voice’ among Labour activists. What’s more it was an echo that resonated into the highest levels of the Labour Party and the government it leads.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Transit NZ says new roads will be delayed for a decade if Aucklanders do not accept tolls. Auckland road users are being held to ransom. Who will be next?
Road building should be funded out of taxes, as it always has been. If road user charges need to be raised, or road taxes increased, then that is a political decision that needs to be faced up to. We do not need to create a whole new private profit-making tolling industry to raise funds for roads.
Transit is planning to spend $150 million to set up toll gantries and other tolling infrastructure in Auckland. This would pay the interest for at least three years on the $800 million loan Transit says is necessary to finish the planned roads by 2015.
Working class people will bear the brunt of road tolls. They often have no choice but to use the roads to get to work, and this is likely to be at times of peak toll rates. Toll avoidance will mean new roads for the rich and traffic jams for the poor.
There needs to be an all-out campaign to stop Transit NZ implementing road tolls.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
The Alliance Party and Pam Corkery campaigned successfully to save the Port of Auckland from being fully privatised in the early 1990s. Mike Lee, chairman of the ARC, completed the job last year by overseeing the buyback of the 20% of shares in the Port that were sold in 1992 by the Waikato Regional Council.
Now the big four mayors of the Auckland isthmus want to grab the $1.3 billion of ARC controlled assets, including the Port, to use to as a short-term fix for municipal spending that should be funded from local body rates and prudent borrowing. This blatant power play by the mayors, seemingly given the stamp of approval by Helen Clark and the Government, must be opposed by a similar campaign to that which saved the Port from sale a decade and a half ago.
The central plank of the mayors' plan is the abolition of the democratically elected ARC and its replacement by a patently undemocratic Greater Auckland Council which the mayors themselves and appointed business cronies will undoubtedly dominate.
The Alliance opposes this move and calls on all Aucklanders to mobilise in support of retaining ARC control of the region’s assets.
Monday, August 28, 2006
The NZ Living Standards 2004 report reveals that under Labour from 2000 to 2004 the numbers of Maori and Pacific people in severe economic and social hardship has roughly doubled.
Over the four years 57% of Pacific people remained in a degree of hardship, but the numbers in severe hardship jumped from 15% to 27%.
The comparable figures for Maori were 40% in hardship, with 17% in severe hardship, up from 7%.
Overall in New Zealand, 24% of people are living in hardship. Those in severe hardship have jumped from 5% to 8% (that is a 60% increase). It is beneficiary families with children that make up the highest proportion of this group.
Housing costs and overcrowding
According to The Social Report 2006, the number of people living in households paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs has doubled in sixteen years. In 2003/04, 21.4% of people were in this category, up from 10.6% in 1988. For Maori and Pacific people the figure had been as high as 36% and 48% respectively in the late 1990s, and in 2001(the latest figures):
- 21% of Maori households spent roughly a third or more of their income on housing needs.
- 23% of Pacific households were in the same situation.
- 42% of other non-Pakeha households, many of whom are new immigrants, were paying in excess of 30% of their income on housing.
The report also says Pacific people are most likely to be living in overcrowded conditions. In 2001:
- 43% of Pacific people lived in homes requiring extra bedrooms.
- 5% of the total population were living in severely overcrowded accommodation. Pacific people and Maori made up 79% of that group (41% and 38% respectively).
The report said there is a clear correlation between poverty and levels of overcrowding, with those unemployed, those locked out of gaining educational qualifications and those in rental accommodation being more likely to live in these adverse and unhealthy conditions.
Little change under Labour
Working class Pacific and Maori voters gave Labour the support it needed for the last General Election. The electorates where these votes came from, like Mangere where 72% voted Labour, remain the poorest in New Zealand and the MSD reports reveal there has been little change since a Labour-led government came to office in 1999. The future for these voters looks just as bleak under the Labour-led Government’s programme.
Some improvements came in the first three years when the Alliance was a junior coalition party to Labour. It was then, for example, that income related rents (no more than 25% of income) were introduced for Housing NZ state houses.
Under the recently introduced "Working for Families" policy the poorest people have lost ground. Beneficiary incomes have never been restored to the levels that existed before the 1991 National Government cuts.
The MSD shows that inequality continues to increase. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ has continued to widen from 1988, including during the years from 2001 to 2004 under Labour-led governments.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Thursday, August 24, 2006
The rally was addressed by Carol Beaumont from the CTU, Andrew Little from the EPMU, Laila Harre from the NDU and Jill Ovens, the new SFWU regional secretary, as well as delegates from worksites.
Union chants rang out across the square drowning out the motorbikes carrying the topless porn stars down Queen St, promoting a porn and sex-toy exhibition 'Erotica'.
Workers responded eagerly to the literature being handed out. The Alliance distributed nearly 1000 copies of its tabloid "The Flame". "Workers Charter" paper was also being handed out.
Workers united, will never be defeated!
Friday, August 18, 2006
But, as his article concedes, unions can lawfully donate services in support of the Labour Party during an election campaign. The SFWU accounting of those services is not necessarily proof of anything other than just that: an internal accounting procedure. Only $20,000 is claimed to have been donated directly to the Labour Party campaign, despite Wishart’s inflammatory claims of "nearly $240,000 of members’ funds allegedly siphoned off to help Labour".
Caning a union for supporting Labour is like attacking the nails for supporting a house: the unions built the Labour Party and the SFWU, along with the engineers’, dairy workers’ and meat workers' unions are all affiliated to the Labour Party. That means every member of those unions can be considered to be a member of Labour through that affiliation. It is quite legitimate for these unions to give financial and other support to the Labour Party.
It is another matter altogether, however, when an extremist right-wing outfit like the Exclusive Brethren Church spends over a million dollars to attack Labour and the Greens in order to aid the election of the National Party. By thine friends shall thee be known. How about a full-scale investigation into that spending Mr Wishart!
Wishart’s support for the hard-done-by members of the SFWU rings hollow given his right-wing credentials. Wishart is hardly a friend of the workers.
That said, the 10-page article makes disquieting reading for anyone genuinely supportive of the trade union movement. The question that should perhaps be asked is why there is no worker-friendly forum for debate about the issues raised in this article.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Jill’s victory over Darien Fenton’s anointed successor to the Northern region Service and Food Workers’ Union (SFWU) secretary’s position is an extremely important and historical achievement. A socialist in the political tradition of the early Labour Party and the theoretical tradition of Ralph Miliband is now the elected leader of the largest region of the SFWU. Jill will build a model democratic union in the SFWU if she has her way. She has overwhelming support from the organisers and staff, and an impressive mandate from the union membership (via their selected delegates) to do so. This can only be good for the working class.
The SFWU is the largest union of low-paid workers and the Left should get right in behind the project to make it an even more powerful and effective tool to fight for the interests of the most downtrodden workers in NZ. In the process SFWU members will be politicised in ways the current bureaucratic union methods prevent.
For those who condemn her for joining Labour, a little more reading of Lenin might convince you that this was not the actions of a traitor, but rather the actions of a courageous and politically savvy hero of the working class.
It was Jill’s own supporters among the delegates, those who were campaigning on her behalf, who urged her to join Labour. The opposition tactic was to raise the bogey that Jill was not Labour and that it was all an Alliance plot to take over the trade unions.
In her speech to the election conference Jill proudly ‘owned’ her role as the National Council representative on the Alliance caucus and her support for the scrapping of the ECA and the introduction of paid parental leave, both measures that the Alliance had a big hand in implementing. She also said in answer to the ‘Labour’ question from the floor: "I have joined Labour but I don’t want to make a big deal of it. It is of no greater relevance than whether I am Anglican or Catholic, they’re both on the side of God. The Alliance supports workers’ rights after all. The real question is who is the best person for the regional secretary’s job."
The reason for joining Labour was to deflate the opposition tactic of turning the election into one about party affiliation, rather than who was the best person for the job. Lenin would have approved. As he wrote in "Left-wing" Communism, An Infantile Disorder:
"One must use one’s own brains and be able to find one’s bearings in each particular instance. It is, in fact, one of the functions of ... leaders worthy of the name, to acquire ... the knowledge, experience and – in addition to knowledge and experience – the political flair necessary for the speedy and correct solution of complex political problems."
The SFWU election posed multiple complex political problems for the challenger. Success required the most careful attention to tactics (there is no winning strategy without winning tactics).
"It is entirely a matter of knowing how to apply these tactics in order to raise – not lower – the general level of proletarian class-consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win" (Lenin again). Note; the "ability to fight and win": this is what raises the consciousness of workers, and the members of the SFWU have gained a major win over the undemocratic, bureaucratic methods of the previous administration of the SFWU.
Lenin hammers home the point in the closing sentence of his chapter entitled "No Compromises?": "... political leaders of the revolutionary class are absolutely useless if they are incapable of ‘changing tack, or offering conciliation and compromise’ in order to take evasive action in a patently disadvantageous battle." The road to political success takes many twists and turns. Sometimes you have turn back temporarily to get around obstacles in your way before you move forward again.
Jill Ovens evaded the battle over party affiliation in order to ensure a win in the battle that mattered; the battle for the delegates’ votes. I supported this course of action. We flew by the seat of our pants a lot, but in the end we did not make any major blunders that would cost Jill the election, nor did we allow our opponents the chance to make much lee-way. Jill won handsomely; that was the testament to her tactical acumen (as well as her working-class politics).
Jill had good reasons to step back from the Alliance, and joining Labour does not mean she thinks there is no place for the Alliance. On the contrary the Alliance has a very important role to play as the socialist and left conscience of the wider labour movement. Many people who are Labour Party members and supporters acknowledge this, and the more the Left maintains a principled, ‘united front’ position with Labour and trade union people, the more credibility our left-of-Labour message will garner.
Friday, July 28, 2006
A Pacific Island woman, a delegate from a hospital in South Auckland, rang me this morning and said; "Shame on her", in reference to Fenton’s attendance at the conference. This delegate rang up all her fellow Pacific Island voting delegates in the week before the election to get them to vote for Jill. She said she supported Jill because she not only talked the talk, she also walked the talk. "Jill was always there for us", she said.
Below is a copy of the speech given by Jill Ovens to the voting delegates. One delegate who works on a well-known food factory site told Jill afterwards that hearing her speech made him feel for the first time what it really meant to "be union".
Speech removed by requset of Jill Ovens. Jill wants a "clean start" for the SFWU in the Northern Region and feels her speech should remain internal to the union.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
The real problem for the Greens is their refusal to acknowledge that we live in a class divided society. The so-called ‘left-right’ political continuum is one with a fracture right through it. ‘Which side are you on?’ is the question the Greens have to answer.
Both the co-leaders elected at the Green’s Queen’s Birthday weekend conference questioned their party’s support for a Labour-led government. Russel Norman, the new male co-leader, attacked the Cullen roading budget and maintained that on some important issues there was "barely a whisker between National and Labour". He rejected the Greens being a "clip- on to Labour" and made it clear they would be willing to work with National or Labour, depending on their position on "unlimited growth ... in a finite world".
Jeanette Fitzsimons expressed a similar view. She said the Greens might support a tax-cutting National budget over a Labour one that spends money on roads. She also said that the Greens reject a "big, all- powerful state" which she acknowledged was a similar position to that of some on the right-wing of politics.
The Green Party’s scramble to keep a position of "independence" leaves a big hole on the left of the political spectrum for a party that openly takes sides with the working and oppressed people of society.
The Alliance comes down firmly on the side of the working classes and openly opposes the domination of big capitalists. The Green concerns with ecological degradation, concerns that the Alliance shares, cannot be solved by the same market mechanisms that create the environmental problems we all face.
It is not a choice between big-state domination versus big- capitalist domination, rather one of a peoples’ democratically controlled and run society versus a market-driven one.
A party to the left of Labour needs to carve out a support base among the working class people that traditionally vote Labour. The Labour Party has adapted all too well to the status quo society over the 70 years of its existence, and only partially, at best, represents the interests of low-income New Zealanders who vote for it.
More than 70 per cent of voters in the deprived electorate of Mangere supported Labour in the last election. They are still suffering from a huge social and economic deficit after more than six years of a Labour government yet this vote was given faithfully in the absence of a more credible left alternative.
Those on the left should work for the defeat of National and other forces of the political right, while building a credible alternative to Labour.
If the Greens stand in the middle of the road, they risk being road- kill.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Northern region members managed to vote down the rule change despite up to a dozen extra site meetings being convened at short notice by the Acting Regional Secretary, Lisa Eldret. These were held at times and places in a manner that mostly excluded oppositional views. At these improperly notified ‘secret’ extra meetings where only the dubious ‘vote yes’ arguments were put to those attending, the members loyally voted in favour of the resolutions. At other meetings where members opposed to the adoption of the new rules were able to put an alternative view, the vote went overwhelmingly against the rule change.
A complaint to the returning officer about the holding of meetings that were not notified two weeks in advance to every member as specified in the union's rules was brushed off. The reply said that only a "technical breach" of the rules had been committed and because the national result was overwhelmingly in favour of the resolutions, no action needed to be taken.
The rules have been endorsed by the union nationally and therefore all the leadership elections will now be conducted in the way specified; viz conferences of selected delegates will do the voting rather than the whole membership.
An election policy has been drawn up in consultation with (but not necessarily with the agreement of) interested parties such as Jill Ovens who is contesting the northern region secretary position. A random selection process (ie drawing the names out of a hat) will be used to choose the delegates to attend the election conference. The delegates will be chosen proportionately by industry in accordance with the industry spread of the membership. The policy appears to seek to restrict candidate campaigning activities to making contact with the delegates selected to attend the election conference. The selection process will not be completed until about two weeks before the election.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Page numbers from the 1973 Progress Publishers pamphlet reprint
Lenin on the need for organisation (Section I A, p11)
We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don't clutch at us and don't besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are "free" to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!
Lenin on the need for alliances (Section I C, p18)
Only those who are not sure of themselves can fear to enter into temporary alliances even with unreliable people; not a single political party could exist without such alliances.
Lenin (and Pisarev) on dreaming (Section V B, pp166-167)
And if indeed we succeeded in reaching the point when all, or at least a considerable majority, of the local committees local groups, and study circles took up active work for the common cause, we could, in the not distant future, establish a weekly newspaper for regular distribution in tens of thousands of copies throughout Russia. This newspaper would become part of an enormous pair of smith's bellows that would fan every spark of the class struggle and of popular indignation into a general conflagration. Around what is in itself still a very innocuous and very small, but regular and common, effort, in the full sense of the word, a regular army of tried fighters would systematically gather and receive their training. On the ladders and scaffolding of this general organisational structure there would soon develop and come to the fore Social-Democratic Zhelyabovs from among our revolutionaries and Russian Bebels from among our workers, who would take their place at the head of the mobilised army and rouse the whole people to settle accounts with the shame and the curse of Russia.
That is what we should dream of!
"We should dream!" I wrote these words and became alarmed. I imagined myself sitting at a "unity conference" and opposite me were the Rabocheye Dyelo editors and contributors. Comrade Martynov rises and, turning to me, says sternly: "Permit me to ask you, has an autonomous editorial board the right to dream without first soliciting the opinion of the Party committees?" He is followed by Comrade Krichevsky; who (philosophically deepening Comrade Martynov, who long ago rendered Comrade Plekhanov more profound) continues even more sternly: "I go further. I ask, has a Marxist any right at all to dream, knowing that according to Marx, mankind always sets itself the tasks it can solve and that tactics is a process of the growth of Party tasks which grow together with the Party?"
The very thought of these stern questions sends a cold shiver down my spine and makes me wish for nothing but a place to hide in. I shall try to hide behind the back of Pisarev.
"There are rifts and rifts," wrote Pisarev of the rift between dreams and reality [Pisarev was a 19th century Russian intellectual and a leading exponent of ‘social utilitarianism’. He held that all art and intellectual endeavour was useless unless it aimed ‘to solve forever the unavoidable question of hungry and naked people’ L.R.]. "My dream may run ahead of the natural march of events or may fly off at a tangent in a direction in which no natural march of events will ever proceed. In the first case my dream will not cause any harm; it may even support and augment the energy of the working men.... There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyse labour-power. On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and completed picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to lend shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be to induce man to undertake and complete extensive and strenuous work in the sphere of art, science, and practical endeavour.... The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with his castles in the air, and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well."
Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement. And the people most responsible for this are those who boast of their sober views, their "closeness" to the "concrete" ... .
Friday, May 05, 2006
Monopoly ownership has allowed Telecom to gouge monopoly profits since it was privatised in 1990 by the infamous Rogernomics Labour Government of the day. When Telecom won the 2004 CAFCA Roger award for the worst multi-national, financial analyst, Sue Newberry, showed that Telecom was making over 25 per cent annual returns on its New Zealand assets year after year.
This is why telephone line and mobile call charges are so high in this country – to keep Telecom’s shareholders rubbing their hands when the $800 million profit is paid out each year. The way to stop this is to put this essential infrastructure asset under public ownership and control so it delivers an efficient, modern service at the cheapest possible cost to its customers.
The National party is defending Telecom’s monopoly position, saying that the "market" should be left to decide if, how and when broadband technology should be delivered.
This is like saying the weather should be left to decide which homes are washed away by floods, or the fox should be left in charge of the chickens. National believes this will deliver the best outcomes for New Zealand. As the ads say – "Yeah right!" Telecom’s success in preventing any real competition, along with its deliberate strategy of paying out maximum dividends rather than investing in the development of modern broadband infrastructure, gives lie to that argument.
Since 1986, when privatisation of state-owned assets began, New Zealand has been gold-rush territory for big capitalist concerns. The strategy of these largely foreign investors is one of ‘pump and dump’ – pump the profits out and dump the asset after the vampire urges of these asset strippers is satiated. Then the next lot moves in to take their share – precious little of the private capital investment that we were promised by the promoters of privatisation has ever occurred. Instead New Zealand’s vital transport, energy, communications and other economic infrastructure has been degraded to crisis point in many cases.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
The rules being voted on at the round of Annual General Meetings currently under way around the country provide for the national and regional leadership of the SFWU to be elected at delegates’ conferences rather than by the votes of all members. The make-up of these delegates’ conferences is not decided by the members. Rather the delegates who wish to attend are required to submit a written "expression of interest" in attending. The National or Regional executives then determine the size and composition of the delegates’ conference to elect the leaders whose positions are up for election.
At the national level, the elected positions concerned include the National Secretary (a full-time paid position) and the National President (an unpaid, voluntary post). The three Regional Secretaries (full-time paid officials) and Regional Presidents (again, unpaid volunteers) would be elected the same way at the regional level. (The SFWU is essentially a federation of three regions, Northern – with the largest membership – Central, and Southern.) The Secretaries have a four-year term, the Presidents face re-election every two years.
Given that the Regional Secretaries and Presidents sit on (and have a big influence in determining the membership of) their respective Regional Executives, and the National Executive includes the National Secretary and President as well as the six aforementioned regional officers, there are clear conflicts of interest in this arrangement.
The people seeking re-election are effectively in charge of the process of selecting the people who will be voting for (or against) them in the elections held to fill the positions they, as incumbents, currently hold.
The rule changes were rammed through the union’s 2004 Northern Region conference by Darien Fenton, before she won a Labour Party list seat in Parliament in September 2005. The official registration of the new rules took place on September 21, just days after the election result was known.
However, these new rules were required to be re-submitted to the membership this year after the union obtained legal advice that the rule-change meetings held in 2004 had not been properly notified.
This puts the union in a quandary as the current National Secretary was elected under the newly registered rules after the position of National Secretary was vacated by Darien Fenton on her accession (or is that ascension) to parliament.
The four omnibus resolutions being put to the membership seek: (1) the membership’s endorsement of the 2004 rule changes; (2) their acceptance of the result of the elections already held under these rules; (3) their approval of the actions taken by the officers of the union (principally John Ryall) since their election under the faulty 2004 rules; (4) their endorsement of some further (2006) rule changes that seek to make the rules consistent with the intentions of the earlier (2004) changes.
In Auckland, concerned members and delegates have circulated letters and leaflets, exercised their rights to speak at meetings, and otherwise organised to oppose the recommended resolutions. The result is that where there has been debate at the AGMs on the rule changes they have been overwhelmingly rejected in all but one or two meetings. At one stage the votes were running two to one against. Only the late night convening of some factory site-meetings where oppositional voices were not able to be heard has partially rescued the situation for the leadership.
The most startlingly shocking aspect of the AGMs has been the direct intervention of Darien Fenton MP into the voting process. Fenton, whose office is on Auckland’s North Shore, has attended several AGMs and spoken in favour of the Resolutions. Many members see this as inappropriate and an attempt to wield undue influence. Despite Fenton’s best efforts meetings like the large one held at the Papatoetoe Town Hall last week have still voted down the resolutions (134 against, to 92 for, on Resolution 1 at this meeting).
After the Papatoetoe meeting, Fenton was observed haranguing a delegate who had spoken strongly in defence of union democracy and against the resolutions. The delegate was visibly shaken by the vehemence of Fenton’s verbal assault on him.
The rule change debacle has impacted on the election of Fenton’s successor as SFWU Northern Region Secretary (Fenton was a dual office-holder before her departure to Parliament).
The Union’s Rules require an election to be held to fill the vacant Northern Region Secretary position. Nominations were called last December but the election still has not been held. It has been postponed twice; once in February because of improper notification (this seems to be an endemic problem for the SFWU), and secondly in March after the election rules themselves came into question. The election will now not be held until June, after the completion of the round of AGMs and the ratification (or not) of the Rule changes.
Fenton’s anointed successor, one Lisa Eldret (Fenton’s "wing-person" and Assistant Regional Secretary in the Northern office), is being strongly challenged by the experienced and respected trade unionist Jill Ovens. Ovens is the former full-time, paid President of ASTE, the technical teachers’ union, and was until recently the CTU Women’s Convenor and representative on the CTU National Affiliates Council.
Ovens has been a senior organiser with the SFWU in the health and aged-care sectors (Northern Region) for the last year and a half, and now heads the "Healthy Pay, Healthy Hospitals" campaign in the region. She has gained the respect and support of the Northern SFWU office staff and organisers, as well as the members and delegates she has been working with.
A suspicious mind might think the real reason the election has been postponed twice is because the "numbers" were against the chosen one. An old adage of Labour Party politics is that you never hold a vote unless you know in advance that the outcome will be favourable to you.
The SFWU is a living example of the operation of the "iron law of oligarchy" that the sociologist Robert Michels exposed in the German workers’ movement nearly one hundred years ago. Michels examined how large organisations, particularly trade unions and political parties, tend to create structures that perpetuate the status quo and undermine their own internal democracy even though they may be publicly committed to defending democracy in society as a whole. Control of information, resources, staffing, and election processes are the means by which incumbent leaders maintain their power. Michels was extremely pessimistic that anything could be done to combat this tendency (hence his description of it as an "iron law").
Well, members of the SFWU in Auckland (and possibly the rest of the Northern Region) give supporters of union democracy reason for optimism. They are showing at their AGMs that it is not true that "oligarchy" always triumphs. The members have a voice and they are showing that they know how to make it heard.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Dennis O’Brien told the NZ Herald business reporter that the sacrifice he and the other workers were being asked to make was "extreme". Under the "job-saving" scheme promoted by the leaders of the EPMU and AMEA unions, he and others will have to work part or all of 47 weekends a year. At the moment they only work one weekend in three. Mr O’Brien said the new shift-roster will put unreasonable strain on family life. Wages will also be cut by about $15,000 a year.
Mr O’Brien originally voted "no" to the deal but last Thursday he changed his vote to "yes" for a slightly modified offer. "There was a small carrot and a very big stick," he said. He thought it was better to live to fight another day.
Air NZ will now keep the wide-body airframe maintenance work in New Zealand, but 200 jobs will go. The unions had previously brokered a deal that saw 110 engine-maintenance jobs lost. The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, had added to the pressure to accept the deal by urging workers to change their vote. Nevertheless, nearly one third of the Christchurch-based workers still voted "no".
The unions’ acquiescence over the engineering job cuts has been taken as a green light by the company for hundreds of other job cuts. Another 500 office-based job losses were immediately announced after the union acceptance of the 200 engineering job cuts. Andrew Little of the EPMU said it was "unbelievable" that these cuts were to be made. But the lack of resolve by himself and other union leaders over taking action to save the engineering jobs, means the company thinks it can do whatever it likes with impunity.
Little could have led a political and industrial campaign to mobilise support from the public to save the jobs. The Government should have stepped in to take full control of Air NZ, a company that is already 80 per cent publicly-owned. The unions could have fought for that to happen instead of selling members pay and conditions to save some of the jobs threatened.
There have now been 900 job cuts involving cleaners, engineers and office workers. More are to come. The cost-cutting plan put forward by former chief executive Ralph Norris more than two years ago was for 1500 jobs to go. Airline analyst, Peter Sigley, from the financial company Goldman Sachs JBWere, praised the new chief executive, Rob Fyfe, for being an aggressive manager of costs and for not being afraid to make difficult decisions. "Fyfe has stepped into the guts of the business in terms of its cost base," he said. Some might say he is ripping the guts out of the business.
Despite fuel cost rises, Air NZ chairman John Palmer announced that the airline balance sheet was in good shape with more than $1.1 billion cash in the bank and a projected profit expected this year of $140 million. The total savings made through the job cuts are less than $50 million.
As the Alliance says, the loss of jobs is completely unnecessary. It is not about the engineering operation or the airline as a whole losing money. It is all about return on capital. The heavy engineering workshops have been one of the main revenue earners for Air NZ for years.
The Government has the responsibility to stop the wanton economic vandalism by Air NZ management. The job cuts are a major blow to our strategically important transport infrastructure. It is a matter of concern for all New Zealanders and should be top priority for this Labour Government.
No jobs should go and no cuts should be made to workers’ pay and conditions. The Government must step in and take control of the situation.
The Alliance believes the cost-cuts are being made to get the airline ready to be sold back into full private ownership.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Thanks for your support on the ANZES (Air NZ Engineering Services) issue. You're one of the few outsiders who can see this disgraceful situation for what it really is. I have attached a document to this email which shows the type of bullying we are expected to endure!
You're welcome John,
You and your fellow workers are being subjected to unwarranted and uncalled-for pressure from all sides. The Government is acting disgracefully. Helen Clark's outburst is tantamount to 'scabbing' on your members' justified fight to retain hard-won conditions in the face of an employer determined to increase profitability at the expense of the workforce.
The Government was elected by a massive turnout of workers in the election. They should put the workers' interests first. As majority shareholder, they should step in and sack the present management if it will not back off from its plans to cut jobs and slash conditions in this vitally important industry.
Andrew Little of the Engineers Union, and even some of the AMEA union officials, are reluctant to put the government on the spot and would rather concede than fight. I still think industrial action based around an occupation of the workshops could mobilise support from the general public against the wanton economic vandalism being proposed by Air NZ.
Good luck and best wishes from myself and the Alliance Party.
Yours in solidarity,
It is scandalous that the Government, a majority-shareholder in the company, refused to intervene to overturn the decision to close the Air NZ heavy engineering maintenance workshops. Instead, Ms Clark has said she was disappointed that a "small majority" of workers rejected the brokered deal.
The fact is hundreds of Air NZ workers voted down the deal which would have meant their shifts could be changed with little notice and their pay would be cut. Why should workers have to take cuts to save their own jobs?
The loss of the engineering jobs is completely unnecessary. It is not about the engineering operation losing money. It is all about return on capital.
The heavy engineering workshops have been one of the main revenue earners for Air NZ for years. The projected savings from the workshops' closure are only $20 million a year in a company that made a $250 million profit last year.
It is the Government's responsibility to stop the wanton economic vandalism threatened by Air NZ management. The loss of our country's heavy aircraft repair capacity would be a major blow to our strategically important transport infrastructure. It is a matter of concern for all New Zealanders and should be top priority for this Labour Government.
No jobs should go and no cuts should be made to workers' pay and conditions. The Government must step in and take control of the situation.
Monday, February 13, 2006
The reggae rapper band pumped out the sounds. Rosita Vai of NZ Idol fame (former KFC worker) sang two songs. Michele A'Court and another comedian did their turns and there were some excellent video and slide presentations about the pay campaign.
Sharples spoke strongly against poverty and in support of the low paid and beneficiaries but Sue Bradford said only United Future had so far decided to support her bill to abolish youth rates for 16 and 17 year-olds. She said she hoped Sharples' speech meant the Maori Party would vote for the bill going to the select committee. The word is that Labour will probably support it going to select committee as well. Some Labour MPs and the CTU are backing the bill.
Workers' Charter were distributing their new tabloid newspaper. I congratulated John Minto, its editor, on the quality - 12 pages in colour. Jill Ovens' article about the SFWU pay equity campaign for low-paid hospital workers, with a picture of her on a picket line, was prominent (on page 3). The big question is how the paper will be able to sustain itself, and how frequently they can get it out. Dean Parker wrote a piece in this first edition about the Wharfies Transport Worker paper that was published in the run-up to the 1951 stoush. It was a true worker's paper. It had the social base of an important section of workers.
Workers' Charter might struggle to emulate the popularity of the wharfies' paper; one edition of that paper had a run of 100,000 copies (the union only had 7000 members).
The Workers Charter (draft) features prominently in poster form as the centre-fold. The charter is starting to sound more and more like the Alliance manifesto as it is amended (by whom?) with each new public appearance. It talks of the battle for democracy and human dignity. It calls for a complete transformation of society, with democracy extended into every sphere of the economy and the state. The demands include "The right to public control of assets vital to community well-being" and "The right to organise for the transfer of wealth and power from the haves to the have-nots".
Thursday, February 02, 2006
The Alliance contested the 2005 election as a party for the working class. As such, the Alliance campaigned for the defeat of National and the extreme right-wing elements that supported Brash’s campaign.
It was the large turnout of working class voters, especially in South Auckland, that assured Labour enough seats to form a government. Labour must repay that support with measures to improve the lot of the working class people, many of whom are struggling to survive on pitifully low incomes.
The Government has said it will raise the minimum wage to $12 in 2008 "if economic conditions permit". This is not good enough.
The immediate abolition of youth rates would be start, and Sue Bradford’s private members bill to that effect should be supported by all who claim to be "with the workers", including Labour MPs.
The Greens and Workers’ Charter are pushing for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour. This, the Alliance supports as well. However, if the minimum wage was set at two-thirds of the average wage ($21.13 in November, 2005), in line with the ILO Standard, it would be $14 an hour, and this would make a real difference to hundreds of thousands of workers.
Despite six years of a Labour Government, low hourly rates and the loss of overtime rates mean low-paid workers are worse off in real terms then they were 15 years ago. Workers have to work long hours just to make ends meet.
In real terms, wage rises are barely keeping up with rising prices. Unemployment may well be low by international standards, but many jobs are part-time or casual. Insecurity haunts working class suburbs.
Casual workers often miss out on basic entitlements such as sick leave or parental leave, and they are easily dismissed.
The State has allowed wages and conditions to be driven down by contracting out services such as cleaning in hospitals and doing nothing to ensure workers get a living wage and decent conditions.
The Alliance says we need to:
Increase the minimum wage: The Alliance policy is for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. We oppose discriminatory youth rates. Everyone (those with jobs and beneficiaries) should get an income they can live on.
Control excessive hours: We supports the introduction of a 35-hour working week with no loss of pay and immediate introduction of 4 weeks annual leave. Workers should have the right to refuse unreasonable hours or shift work, and mandatory overtime rates.
Introduce responsible contracting: Where employers get public money to deliver services, we think they should be required to meet national standards in pay and conditions.
Protect casual workers: We fight for protections for casual and part-time workers and make it possible for them to carry over service from job to job so they qualify for public holidays, sick leave and parental leave.
Secure a right to redundancy: All workers should have the right to a minimum redundancy payment, but many do not have the power to negotiate this. Our policy is for minimum redundancy of 4 weeks pay, plus 2 weeks pay for every year of service.
Address pay equity in the private sector: Pay inequities in the private sector as well as the public sector will be reduced when we have free childcare, after-school care and when the work that women commonly do is rewarded with decent pay.
Extend Paid Parental leave: We fight for 12 months paid parental leave for all women workers, including casual and seasonal workers. We also support 2 weeks paid parental leave for partners.
Legalise the right to strike: Workers should have the right to strike to enforce their Collective Agreement, to oppose lay-offs, to support other workers, and for political reasons.
Introduce workplace democracy: Workers should have a say in the way work is organised. The Alliance will push for stronger employment legislation to ensure greater workplace democracy.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
The tragic death of 15-year-old Inia Motu as he worked a school holiday job with his father at the Whitford Landfill near Auckland, the ninth workplace death this year, highlights the inadequacy of Government protection of manual workers on the job in New Zealand. Workers die while reports are written, and nothing changes.
Inia was driving a tractor when it rolled and crushed him. The machine had a roll cage but unless the young man was strapped in, he was at risk. Although a seat belt was fitted, he was not wearing it. The Department of Labour is investigating the training and supervision of the 15-year-old.
Of the nine people killed at work so far this year, seven of them were crushed to death.
The lack of urgency and efficacy of government departments charged with taking action to end the senseless slaughter of workers on the job is epitomised by the inadequacy of the information gathering systems that should be exposing the full extent of the problem.
According to 2002 reports by the Labour and Statistics departments, workplace and work-related deaths are under-reported because of the variety of agencies collecting the information. The Department of Statistics was charged with collating and publishing comprehensive data but this has not happened yet.
OSH investigated an average of 44 fatal workplace accidents per year in the years from 1990 to 1994, a period when a ten year independent joint study by Otago and Auckland university researchers published in 1999 found an average of 67 work related injury deaths of workers actually occurring. If bystanders were included in the tally the average was 74 deaths per year.
Taking just the workers, this means that over 34 per cent of workplace injury deaths were not investigated or counted by OSH. In fact, OSH does include deaths of "members of the public", i.e. bystanders, in its investigations so the under-reporting rate could have been as high as 40 per cent. (Note: There is a six-month overlap in the two sets of figures, but this does not materially affect the result of the comparison.) This under-reporting by OSH continues to this day.
This is because OSH does not deal with all work related injuries. Road deaths of truck drivers, for example, are investigated and counted by the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA). Deaths involving aircraft and ships are dealt with by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) respectively. And some workplace deaths are just not reported to OSH.
Bob Hill, the then General Manager of OSH, wrote a hard-hitting article in 2002 describing how the cause of the 73 workplace fatalities the previous year varied; "they were strangled, burnt, shot, beaten, decapitated, electrocuted, drowned and crushed to death."
He wrote that: "The true cost of work-related death is under-acknowledged by New Zealanders." He referred to the 1999 university study, saying that it identified 820 work-related deaths from 1985 to 1994. Of these, he said, OSH recorded only 327 i.e. less than half. He says this shortfall was not just because many of the deaths fell out of OSH’s jurisdiction, but also because some deaths that should have been reported, were not.
To overcome this shortcoming in data collection, the Department of Statistics was appointed "Information Manager" under the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act 2001 (IPRC Act) to collect information on workplace injury and death. The Act gives the Information Manager (i.e. the Department of Statistics) the power to require government agencies to provide injury related information. According to the Department of Labour, the Statistics department has the responsibility for compiling comprehensive injury data held by ACC, CAA, MSA, LTSA, NZHIS (New Zealand Health Information Service; a division of the Department of Health) and OSH.
However, the only statistics available from the Department are those from the ACC claims for workplace injury deaths. This data comes with the disclaimer that not all work-related fatalities have claims submitted for them and therefore not all work-related deaths are included. Included in the data, though, are some claims for workplace deaths due to injury caused by occupational disease, a whole other category of under-counted work related deaths.
According to the Statistics Department’s Injury Statistics 2001/2002 Work-related Injuries report, their research the previous year showed:
* No single agency collects information on all the work-related fatal injuries.
* Even when the information from all the relevant agencies is pooled, the total still falls short of the actual total.
* The undercount occurs in part because deaths from occupational diseases are under-represented. As well, some work-related fatal injuries are not identified or reported as such, in part because the element of work-relatedness is not recorded by the agency responsible.
On taking on the responsibility of co-ordinating the workplace fatal injury data collection in 2002, the Department of Statistics said it would take three years to "develop a system to manage injury information". An analyst in the Department told me, however, that "not much progress" had been made with the fatalities. He said a "scoping exercise" was underway to integrate the ACC information with that from the NZHIS and that there were no plans to collect information directly from other agencies like the CAA, the LTSA and the MSA because that information is supposedly available from the NZHIS.
The analyst said the Statistics department hoped to have the integration ACC and NZHIS data "up and running" by the middle of this year so we will have "a better idea" of the number of work-related deaths. However, he said, this information will still be suspect because of the "unreliability of coding" from ACC. The so-called E-Codes used to classify causes of death do not indicate if fatalities occurred at work. This has to be inferred. The independent university study published in 1999 had the same difficulty in utilising the raw NZHIS mortality data.
The lack of urgency in implementing the clear intention of the IPRC Act to collect accurate statistics on workplace injuries and deaths and the inadequacy of the scoping exercise being carried out is a scandal. To prevent accidents and deaths at work, accurate information is the first requirement. The Department of Statistics has been given the legislative power to require the information to be collected but seems reluctant to use that power.
At least six Government departments and agencies are involved in this fiasco; Health, Labour, Transport, Police, the NZ Defence Force and Statistics. The latter should be told by the Government to require the relevant agencies that all work-related injury deaths be recorded as such and the information passed on to the Department of Statistics. In other words "the element of work-relatedness" must be required to be recorded by any agency dealing with fatalities.
As Bob Hill concluded in his 2002 article:
"With ... comprehensive data, we will begin to see the true cost of workplace death and injury to New Zealand, and all parties concerned will have the information to better target action to minimise risks and prevent work-related injuries and deaths.
"Nobody should die in the workplace. The 73 deaths investigated by OSH last year (2001/02) are an appalling waste of life and a source of immense suffering to the victim’s families, friends and workmates, as well as an economic cost both to their employers and to the country as a whole."
In July 2003 the Government established a new independent advisory committee called predictably the National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee (NOHSAC). This committee reports to the Associate Minister of Labour.
In its Second Annual Report in June 2005, NOHSAC estimated that there were 100 deaths from occupational injury and up to 1000 deaths from occupational disease in New Zealand each year. In the year from July 2004 to June 2005 OSH investigated only 46 fatal workplace accidents; again, less than half. The report said: "The Department of Labour and other government agencies do not know how many people die from work-related causes each year. More than 80 per cent of work-related deaths (mostly due to disease rather than injury) are not documented or reported, and are not investigated."
It goes on to describe the limitations of the present data collection methods and holds up Finland as an example New Zealand could follow. There, a separate agency has operated since 1945 collecting and disseminating information on occupational health and safety. It has 900 people either employed by or working for it. NOHSAC calls for a similar agency to be set up in New Zealand.
A 1996 government inquiry slated the "non-existence of meaningful (occupational health and safety) statistics, which has been the case for 20 years, (and) cannot be allowed to continue." Ten years later little has changed, in spite of the trial work done by the Department of Statistics.
NOHSAC says an independent, autonomously functioning and funded agency should operate an Occupational Disease and Surveillance System (ODISSY) that would "ensure that the appropriate data is collected" rather than just relying on data that has been collected by various agencies for other purposes.
Inia Motu’s family, and the families of the hundreds of workers who die from work-related injuries and diseases every year would heartily agree that it is time that those deaths counted for something: that we should learn from these unnecessary tragedies to prevent similar ones in the future.
The Government needs to act with urgency to rectify the present unacceptable situation. Workers continue to be killed while Ministers and bureaucrats sit on their hands.
Friday, January 06, 2006
It is funny that over the last period the "Perspectives" pages have found room for overseas articles, reprinted from the Independent for example, along with a typically incoherent ramble from Mike Moore, which suggests to me a shortage rather than a surfeit of material.
Is this more a case of the inherent bias of corporate-owned media against radical anti-systemic ideas showing through?
For more on the systematic bias of the media in Britain see Media Lens http://www.medialens.org/