New Zealand: Low-paid workers strike and protest at multiple stores

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Oct 6 2008 06:28
New Zealand: Low-paid workers strike and protest at multiple stores

Just wrote this up for News.

Quote:
New Zealand: Low-paid workers strike and protest at multiple stores

In Auckland and Hamilton low-paid workers at McDonald's and the Farmers department store are striking and protesting for better pay and working conditions.

The strikes started on September 19th with workers working out of Otara McDonald's, to be accompanied on the picket line by a giant inflatable rat. October 3 saw staff at six different McDonald's walk out, five in Auckland and one in Hamilton. The striking workers at the Auckland Airport McDonald's travelled into the city to support strikers at two other stores, while when the Hamilton strikers left their store, only mangers who were specially brought in from Auckland, 130km away, were left running the store. During these strikes, which lasted for several hours or longer, many customers left without food rather than cross the picket lines.

The strikes are part of a campaign by the Unite union aimed at raising wages and ending the bullying of staff. Currently, staff have no guaranteed hours in their contract, and owners are known to use the shift roster as a means of bullying and controlling unionised staff, amongst others. In September, a Unite member and former Kaiapoi McDonald’s worker was awarded NZ$15,000 (US$9700) after she had her hours cut and was bullied into resignation after joining the union.

Negotiations for a new contract have stalled since they began in March. Unite plans to keep the strikes going until McDonald's accept their demands.

For images from the McDonald's strikes, click here. Some information about Unite's previous campaign for improved rights and conditions at fast food stores, see Super Size My Pay - Fast food workers in New Zealand organise for better pay and conditions, 2005-6.

Meanwhile, October 6th, workers at the Farmers department store walked out after being offered what they described as an "insulting pay rise". The workers, members of the National Distribution Union, were offered between nothing and 60 cents, with most offered a 20 cent rise on their $13.50 an hour wage (the minimum wage is $12). Workers are seeking $15 an hour. After picketing the store, workers hopped on a union bus and took a drive to the wealthy suburb of Remuera, where the owners of Farmers (worth over NZ$300 million) live. They proceeded to put leaflets in letterboxes all over the neighbourhood and even knocked on the owners door to try to start a discussion - unfortunately, nobody was home.

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jef costello
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Oct 6 2008 07:44

Interesting stuff, thanks for puttting it up. Are you personally involved in the strike? I just looked at the web page, this Union doesn't seem to have any connection to the british union of the same name.

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Workers are seeing $15 an hour.

What did you mean by this? Looks like you might have missed a word out or something.

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Oct 6 2008 08:18

Woops, was meant to say seeking. Cheers for spotting, will submit an edit now smile

Nope, not personally involved in either struggle - don't live in Auckland, and don't work for McD's or Farmers.

And yeah, Unite in NZ has nothing to do with Unite in UK. Or Unite in Australia for that matter - although Australian Unite was based on NZ Unite, there are no formal ties.

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Oct 6 2008 08:37

I should say, I'm extremely sceptical about the McDonald's strikes. I mean, obviously, its great that a bunch of low-paid workers are struggling, and its great that strikes are now almost the norm in what used to be a formal struggle-less industry (fast food), and its great that (mostly) young workers are getting an early taste of industrial action (ok, maybe I'm not extremely sceptical wink ) but Unite is an extremely controlling union (whats new?) - certainly the lessons learnt from the SuperSizeMyPay campaign show that there is little to no chance of anything getting out of Unite's control, or of any of the strikes spreading beyond where Unite spreads them without the "campaign" being swiftly shut down as SSMP was.

edit - and one of the other positive factors of SSMP was that there was an explicitly radical anti-capitalist (anarchist-dominated) group (Radical Youth) heavily involved in the campaign in Auckland, and as radicals of similar ages to the workers they likely had some positive effect. Radical Youth no longer exists...

Jason Cortez
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Oct 6 2008 08:37
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only managers specially brought the 130km down from Auckland were left to run the store.

you should edit this part of the sentence too. maybe something like: ,only mangers who were specially brought in from Auckland, a 130km away, were left running the store.

interesting developments...looking forward to hearing of successes.

Jason Cortez
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Oct 6 2008 08:39

How democratic is Unite's structure?

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Oct 6 2008 08:48

Done, Jason. Good point, I'm tired (been playing with 2 under 5's all day), its late and I'm hungry tongue

edit:

Jason - Short answer, not very. There's actually a little bit of discussion about this here on LibCom from a forum topic about the SSMP article I linked to in my post.

Unite is controlled by a small clique who used to all be heavily involved in the social-democrat Alliance Party in Parliament (including the ex party President and an ex-MP), and primarily by Matt McCarten, who is the union's head (and formerly the main mover-and-shaker in the Alliance). After the Alliance lost its MPs (the caucus then the party split over the invasion of Afghanistan) many of its senior activists moved to (mostly leadership positions in) the union movement (in particular Unite, the NDU and the SFWU - these 3 unions were, until recently, planning on merging to become NZ's largest private sector union). A chunk of Unite's "militancy" is very much Matt's way of boosting his political power and public profile (he's known for having a big ego).

Jason Cortez
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Oct 6 2008 09:03

Ta, for that. i thought i remembered it being something like that. From the constitution it looks formally democratic, but no limit on how long committee members may continually serve means it difficult to dislodge management committee. What is the relation of the locals to the union, i note that they have to have their AGM at the same time? no hurry for reply, have some grub.

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Oct 6 2008 09:25

I had pumpkin soup, it was awesome (thanks to the comrade who made it, who'll prob be reading this tomorrow!)

I don't actually know too much about the relationship of locals to the union exec, to be honest. What I can say is that Unite barely exists outside of Auckland (NZ's biggest city). As far as I know, they have 1 staff member in Hamilton (5th biggest city) - a member of Socialist Worker splinter group Socialist Aotearoa, interview with her about these strikes here - one in Wellington (capital city, 2nd biggest) and one in Christchurch (3rd biggest city). Most of the campaigns / widescale strikes (including SSMP) have been more or less limited to Auckland, even when (like fast food) there are members in other parts of the country. So my guess and my impression is that locals outside of Auckland are fairly (if not entirely) subservient to Auckland (and therefore the union exec).

edit - By the way, you were the one who posted up an announcement about a public talk in London by Mike Treen (of Unite) about SSMP a while back, right? If so, FYI he is the former Alliance MP I mentioned in one of my previous posts on this thread who's high up in Unite.

Jason Cortez
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Oct 6 2008 10:22

I was just publicising the meeting, i couldn't even attend it myself (IIRC it was IWW organised). So there would be locals in geographical areas that are fairly large i.e. Auckland equalls one local? i only ask as from the constitution it really isn't clear how they function and what their role is? Just wondering if possible sites for rank and file control?

Glad the pumpkin soup was delicious, i love it too.

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Oct 6 2008 10:49

I'm not sure, sorry! I don't even know if there are any genuinely functioning formal locals - I'd hazard a guess (and it is only a guess) that there isn't. The day to day running of the union, and all decisions regarding campaigns, strikes, contracts etc certainly seem to emanate from the paid staff at head office, especially McCarten.

Actually, wait - there is the Waitemata branch of Unite, I don't know whether this is formally constituted as a local or not. It's more or less controlled by a small Leninist sect (can't remember which specific flavour) and is constantly feuding with McCarten / national exec. They are the only really active group still around from back when Unite was primarily a beneficiaries union, and push within the union on beneficiaries issues. A while back McCarten attempted to expel them en masse, but this didn't pan out...They have a blog at http://waitemataunite.blogspot.com/ which may be of interest.

edit - In terms of possibility for rank n file control, I doubt it tbh. Certainly not anytime soon.

There used to be a large number of anarchists, trots, maoists and general lefty radicals either working or volunteering for Unite. Now, that isn't the case - most were disillusioned over a few issues, including the end phase of SSMP and the control from Auckland over Wellington and Christchurch. Now there's just a couple of Trots (from the aforementioned Socialist Aotearoa) and a couple of Maoists (from the Workers Party) who still work at Unite as fulltime (last I heard) organisers. (For what its worth, I was never one of them - most of my knowledge is second or third hand!)

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Oct 7 2008 03:22

Just spotted this on Aotearoa Indymedia:

Quote:
Airport's Arrest Threats Against Workers Wont Fly
Tuesday, 7 October 2008, 10:51 am
Press Release: Unite Union

Airport's arrest threats against McDonald’s workers won’t fly with Union

Union members from all five McDonald’s restaurants located at Auckland Airport will be on strike from midday to demand pay parity with union workers at KFC, Starbucks and Pizza Hut.

“However these workers have more than their boss to face-off with today. They are prepared to protest on airport property even if it means facing arrest,” said Unite Union Secretary Matt McCarten.

A strike by young union members last Friday at the Airport was hounded and harassed by security staff and police. Security guards and police physically threatened the workers and issued a trespass notice against their organiser, despite their entirely peaceful action.

“It is absolutely disgraceful that the Auckland and Manukau City Council owned Airport thinks it is fine to threaten people for protesting on public property. Their threats won’t fly with our union and we will be back on Airport property today and prepared to get arrested if need be,” continued Mr. McCarten.

“The conflict between McDonald’s and the more than 1000 Unite Union members has now entered its third week and we have zero tolerance for these sorts of bullying tactics. If protesting for a living wage and fair conditions of work at the world’s biggest fast food company involves getting arrested then that’s what we will have to do,” said Mr McCarten

“Everyday Auckland Airport relies on our poorly paid union members to cook for and clean up after thousands upon thousands of hungry travelers. But until a living wage is won at McDonald’s restaurants the sounds of protest will be heard amongst the roar of jets at Auckland Airport,” concluded Mr. McCarten

ends

Jason Cortez
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Oct 7 2008 11:07

What exactly does beneficiaries mean in NZ union context, as I am unclear. Is it Family members or the wider communities.

Jason Cortez
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Oct 7 2008 11:07

oops double post

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Oct 7 2008 12:15

beneficiaries = people on a state benefit - ie: unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, invalids benefit, domestic purposes benefit (for parents), etc etc

No idea what its called in other places - didn't realise it wasn't called that til now!

Jason Cortez
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Oct 7 2008 12:19

doh, i should of realised. We just call them dole scum. smile