NZ: Workers Set To Face More Attacks

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Jul 26 2010 11:09
NZ: Workers Set To Face More Attacks

The National Government recently announced a series of new attacks on workers across New Zealand. The raft of proposed changes to the anti-worker Employment Relations Act (ERA, brought in by the previous Labour Government in 2000) and the Holidays Act will serve to further cut job security, wages and conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers in both the public and private sectors.

What are the changes?

Perhaps the biggest change is the expansion of the 90 day fire at will scheme. Under this, any worker can be fired within the first 90 days of employment without any way to legally challenge this. When originally introduced following the 2008 election, this only applied to workers in workplaces with 19 or fewer employees (around 1/3 of the total workforce) however the proposed expansion would see it cover all workplaces. Since it was brought in, approximately 22% of workers hired under the scheme have been fired within 90 days, many given neither a reason nor a warning of what was about to occur, leaving them financially screwed.

A number of changes have also been proposed to the personal grievance process and the way the Employment Relations Authority works. All these changes make it harder for workers to challenge harassment, unjust firings and other problems and while making it easier for the bosses to get their way in a system that is already slanted in their favour.

We will also be pressured into working more often. The time honoured tradition of pulling a sickie is under attack (see elsewhere in this issue of Solidarity for details). Meanwhile, the 4th week of annual leave will soon be able to be exchanged (for cash), as will public holidays (for other days). National is declaring that both of these exchanges must be initiated by the employee, but in reality many workers will no doubt be pressured by their bosses into making them, especially those workers in the first 90 days of their contracts who are in constant fear of being fired! This all adds up to more work for an already overworked population.

Workers who want to join a trade union may find it much harder if the proposed changes go through. Unions will require permission from the employer before they can set foot on the property, meaning it will be especially difficult for unions to get onto sites where they don’t already have members. Additionally, companies will be able to communicate directly with workers during collective bargaining meaning yellow unions (unions run by the company) may become more common, with the associated drop in wages and conditions.

Separate from this lot of law changes but also coming up soon is a private members bill from National MP Tau Henare, which would place further restrictions on strike activity. The bill, which would force unions to hold secret ballots for all strike activity, would give bosses another avenue with which to have strikes declared illegal, at a time when workers are already heavily restricted in their choice of industrial activity by the ERA.

What can we do?

  • Talk to your workmates: Build a culture in your workplace where you all support each other when there’s an issue, even if it only effects one or two people. Collectivise problems – it’s much harder for the boss to ignore a larger number of workers.
  • Take industrial action where possible: Work to rules, go slows, taking lunch breaks at the same time, strike activity and more. As workers we produce the wealth that lines our bosses pockets – by threatening that profit we can force bosses to give into our demands. When we do engage in industrial activity, make sure it is controlled by us, not by trade unions. While unions can sometimes be useful (for legal protection, resources etc), industrial activity is our weapon, not theirs, and should be controlled by us without interference.
  • Support other workers’ struggles: We’re all in this together, and one strong workplace won’t be enough. If you hear of another workplace that’s going out on strike, and you can make the picket line, go and stand with them. If you can’t, support them in other ways - there may be a strike fund you can donate to, or even just go in when they’re not striking and let the workers know that you support them.
  • Don’t rely on the trade unions or the Labour Party: The response of the Council of Trade Unions (the umbrella body for NZ unions) to these latest attacks has been pitiful. They have announced they will distribute 20,000 copies of a “Fairness at Work” leaflet – not even enough to reach 10% of their affiliate unions’ membership, let alone the millions of ununionised workers. The Labour Party introduced the anti-worker ERA in its last term in power and has shown time and time again that it is no friend to the working class. In opposition it may encourage members to attend protests, but in Government it’ll just be more of the same.
  • This is our fight: These attacks impact on all of us who are forced to work to survive. We, the working class, must stand together and fight in our workplaces to not only protect what little we have, but to create a better future for us all. Separate we will fall, but together we have a chance to win.

- Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement

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cogg
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Jul 27 2010 21:21

Just wondering what you think the reaction to it will be. My impression as someone who doesn't live in NZ but has been in contact with people there is that there'll be some demos and stuff but for now there probably won't be any concerted resistance to it.

By the way, my interest isn't academic as I'm emigrating there in September.

Just to add that this isn't my first post here but I've mislaid previous passwords and user names so I thought I'd start again with a name that many people will know from previous forums.

bootsy
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Jul 28 2010 03:21

Its quite hard to say really. I think its worth mentioning that the government scrapped its plans to mine conservation land after a march of around 50,000 in Auckland and some other direct action groups put pressure on them. They have already announced plans to mine other areas though, so this is not as much as a climb down as it first appears, but there is a possibility it could embolden people to feel like direct action can have an effect on government policy. At least I hope that's the case.

There is already a little bit of tension between left groups and the bureaucratic unions. The CTU were not happy that a demonstration and public meeting was organised in Wellington without their official consent. Furthermore at said public meeting we spent a good 20-30 minutes over the appropriateness of the term 'class war'. So you get the general picture. In fact I don't think the CTU are even opposing the law changes, they're just complaining that they're not very fair.

One part of the bill we mention is that workers will have to get a doctors certificate if they take a day off work, where as right now they don't have to do that until they've taken 3 consecutive days off. From what I can gather this is one of the most unpopular aspects of the new laws and I do feel its possible that there will be a reasonable amount of resistance to it. We will have a whole article on 'pulling sickies' in the next issue of Solidarity though which will go in to a little more depth.

At the moment I am feeling optimistic that a certain degree of resistance is likely. If you want some more info there is plenty of stuff being posted to Aotearoa IMC from various groups.

Malcy
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Jul 28 2010 07:37

Bootsy,

Read Helen Kelly's second open letter to John Key.

quote, "On the issues - we oppose them."

I have no doubt that the CTU want to control the campaign against these attacks and channel it into support for the Labour Party and a discourse about fairness, but at least they are opposing them. It remains to be seen how this will play out. There's very little point in complaining about the obvious. Question is, how do we (libertarian communists, anarchists, etc.) come up with concrete ways to organise among our fellow workers that defeat this tendency to the bureacratisation of the struggle and channel it into more fruitful paths of working class self-organisation. Big question, I know. This seems like a good opportunity to me to build cross-union networks and link up with groups fighting against cuts to social services, etc.

Convert
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Jul 28 2010 08:10

There will be no resistance to these attacks. The state knows this - and would not be on the attack if it thought there was any chance of resistance.

I work at a 50% unionised factory and most people i've talked to are either in avour of the new measures or indifferent. To be fair though indifference is probably a rational response as to fight the attacks off would take huge mobilisations which everyone knows is impossible with only 15% of the workforce unionised into completely hopeless unions.

NZ's working class is completely defeated, divided, and unorganised.

Cogg - where are you living now? What part if NZ are you moving to? Welcome to the worlds next third world country.

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cogg
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Jul 28 2010 20:03

I'm in London and moving to Dunedin.

I can see why you'd make the above points but there's always something that could be the incendiary moment.

It might be something such as the sick note move but if you don't make an attempt to light the fire, you'll freeze.

Malcy
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Jul 29 2010 00:36

Hi Cogg,

I live in Dunedin. PM me if you want to get in touch when you get here. There's not many like-minded individuals here so the more the merrier! I won't ask why you would want to move to Dunedin(!)

Love the (probably completely justified) pessimism there Convert!

fruitloop
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Jul 29 2010 10:22

NZ is weird politically, I was there for four months recently and really didn't get it at all. Coming from the UK though it seemed like the apparatus for manufacturing consent were quite primitive and that this was a potential weakness as far as the capitalist class were concerned, but on the other hand there is very little class consciousness either. It did appear though that with things in such a raw state they could potentially by a more volatile in response to changing socio-economic circumstances than in England.

Lots of things seem to complicate the picture, like race, nationalism, etc. And there seems to be a real problem with corruption amongst the middle ranks of business leaders/legal/political. Anyway, I'd be really interested if any of the more knowledgeable observer could point me in the direction a decent summary, or maybe paint a quick picture of what the salient factors are.

bootsy
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Aug 3 2010 06:14

Convert your pessimism is wholly justified. However ultimately we have to start somewhere, the situation is bleak but what do you propose we do? Just sit back and cry about these problems because NZ workers don't feel confident enough to fight back?

I'm just bumping this thread because there is a public meeting in Wellington on Wednesday next week which will have a range of different people speaking to it, so for any NZers who like to check out libcom you can get the details from AWSM's latest issue of Solidarity.

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Aug 3 2010 06:18

Thursday 19th, not next Wednesday bootsy. Facebook event is at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=142511259106035 for anyone interested, I'll post more details (inc speakers) on LibCom tomorrow after the next organising meeting for it.

bootsy
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Aug 3 2010 07:37

my bad!

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Steven.
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Aug 3 2010 08:27

hey, please let us know how this all goes. That 22% of all new hires fired is crazy...

Malcy
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Aug 6 2010 02:57

I've been told that there is going to be a nationally co-ordinated stopwork around this in October. I'll be going to the Dunedin CTU meeting on Monday, so I'll report back.

Malcy
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Aug 11 2010 05:38

Well, there's going to be a national stopwork meeting on the 20th October. At the moment each union is supposed to be determining whether they can commit to it or not. Some won't be able to because of the timing of their collective bargaining rounds. The other strategy is to include a variation to all existing collectives which overrides the 90-day and union access issues. Claims for variations could lead to strike action being taken.

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Aug 11 2010 13:51

Jared from Beyond Resistance has put my text into a pretty trifold A4 leaflet - download it at http://zinelibrary.info/files/90_Day.pdf

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Joseph Kay
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Aug 11 2010 13:56

good clear text and looks great too red n black star

Jared
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Aug 12 2010 04:24

Will distro it at our public meeting tonight. Was going to write my talk for tonight up for Libcom but I've decided to mainly ad-lib... sorry!

Few things happening in CHCH:

Public Meeting tonight: http://indymedia.org.nz/article/78835/public-meeting-chch-stop-anti-worker-law
Organising meeting: Monday August 16th at the WEA. 7.30pm.
CHCH action (part of Nat day of action): http://indymedia.org.nz/article/78853/chch-stop-anti-worker-laws-national-day
Film Screening: August 28th at the WEA (Rocking the Foundations).

Still like the idea of a National Sickie. Could become infectious (excuse the pun).

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Sep 5 2010 03:52

I figured it'd be a good time to bump this thread and see how people are feeling now, a few weeks on.

AWSM wrote/collated reports from the CTU rallies on the 21st for the latest issue of Solidarity, I've put them up on LibCom News at http://libcom.org/news/new-zealand-workers-rally-nationwide-05092010 for anyone interested.

We have already had one victory - the initial pickets of BurgerFuel over their firing of someone 89 days into a 90 day trial period and the thread of nationwide coordinate pickets on Saturday at lunchtime were enough to get BurgerFuel to agree to pay the fired worker compensation and pledge not to use the 90 day law again. So that was pretty cool.

Still, I'm fairly pessimistic about our chances of defeating these changes as a whole - I think the best we can hope for is a few minor changes before they all go through, but even that is probably unlikely.

Generally, a number of the unions are already talking about using the campaign against the law changes as an election campaign for Labour, and I think that aspect will only get greater as time goes on.

As far as the October 20th stopworks go, from what we've seen so far it looks like a lot of unions won't be participating, especially in the public sector - at most encouraging members to take slightly longer lunchbreaks. This includes supposedly "radical" unions like Unite, who (in Wellington at least, havent heard about elsewhere) aren't planning on joining the stopworks.

omar
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Sep 5 2010 12:48

I've never read so much bullshit in all my life.

bootsy
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Sep 5 2010 22:27

Come on now comrade omar! We would have mentioned the need to boycott kwila but in all honesty we just ran out of space. Next time eh.

bootsy
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Sep 5 2010 22:57

Seriously though omar, what as upset you so? Is it this?

Quote:
As far as the October 20th stopworks go, from what we've seen so far it looks like a lot of unions won't be participating, especially in the public sector - at most encouraging members to take slightly longer lunchbreaks. This includes supposedly "radical" unions like Unite, who (in Wellington at least, havent heard about elsewhere) aren't planning on joining the stopworks.

In which case I hope it is bullshit! Has Unite decided it will be joining the stop works?

I realize you're a busy man, out there fighting the good fight and such, and that you probably have neither the time, the energy nor the inclination to soil your grand political theories by discussing them with the rest of the leftist rabble. Infact I realize that our ideas (deranged as they are) deserve little more than a one line insult from a working class warrior like yourself. But if you could enlighten us as to which of the above sentiments you consider to be bullshit I'm sure all the misguided communists and anarchists who have posted on this thread would be quite thankful.

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Sep 6 2010 00:24

From what I've heard, Unite are not planning on taking part in the stopworks. They may change their mind if a lot of their members tell them to do otherwise.

I just deleted a big paragraph insulting Omar before hitting Save. This is an interesting and productive discussion, lets try and keep it that way. He's clearly not worth wasting anyone's time on.

omar
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Sep 6 2010 01:20

Asher's assertion that we won't participate in October 20 is inaccurate. As for the pessimism expressed in most of this thread, I think it is fairly inaccurate a representation of the possibilities for working class action in the coming period.

People should get busy organising against these attacks and trying to mobilise people rather than just moaning about the decomposition of the class.

Pockets of militant workers will no doubt come to the fore in this period and from these pockets a concerted campaign of resistance can be built.

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Sep 6 2010 01:56
Quote:
Asher's assertion that we won't participate in October 20 is inaccurate.

Good to hear. My information came (indirectly) from Unite members, so I'm glad to hear that either the plan has changed or they were told the wrong thing.

Quote:
People should get busy organising against these attacks and trying to mobilise people rather than just moaning about the decomposition of the class.

All of the people posting in this thread have been heavily involved in organising around these attacks you self-righteous fuckwit. Unlike you, who ran away when people didn't agree with and voted down your proposed love-in with Labour Party MPs and the CTU leadership.

bootsy
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Sep 6 2010 02:06

I'll make no more comments on omar's 'contributions' to this thread, their utility is fairly self-evident and Asher is completely correct.

Most of the people organising around this are fairly pessimistic and that is wholly justifiable. The fact is, no matter what your view on the trade unions, the CTU doesn't haven't the capability to organise any significant resistance to these laws. The fairness at work rallies managed to attract a fair few people, however as we mentioned in our report they could have attracted many more with the resources the CTU has available. They were barely advertised, I saw one poster for it in Wellington and apparently the CTU was upset and had it taken down because the city council contacted them saying it was put up illegally. Kinda gives you a feel for the situation.

Likewise I'm already feeling the stopworks will be a bit of a flop, so many unions aren't going to participate as Asher has mentioned, and for those workers who do participate they will find themselves sitting in a stadium being lectured by labour party politicians. This sort of thing just strikes me as a barrier to any self-organised response to the attacks. Yes I'm moaning, but where are we going to start with the whole 'going out there an organising' thing unless we are clear about the inadequacies of the groups which already claim to be doing that.

Because of this I think the focus of many people is shifting to building resistance to the new laws once they are introduced, rather than actually campaigning against their introduction which is starting to look a bit hopeless (not that I think we shouldn't do that at all, but there is a healthy sense of realism about how best to use our energies tbh). Hence the rather sudden, widespread (within the left) support for setting up solidarity networks around the country. The potential effectiveness of these networks has already been demonstrated by the victory on Friday. For that reason I have to agree with omar (reluctantly), if there is an effective means of resisting these laws then there is the possibility that we can build up a community of militants, a 'culture of resistance' or whatever, and actually begin to take the offensive from time to time.

We really are working in the dark with these new organisational forms though, and the fact is the majority of those involved are pretty young and inexperienced. But for me I think the important thing is to try and set a precedent by showing that struggle at the point of production is what really counts, rather than the largely symbolic 'actions' and political maneuvers of the union 'movement'. Maybe I'm wrong here, but I do think people will generally respond more positively to an organisational and tactical approach which treats them as masters of their own destinies rather than pawns who need to be mobilized when the collaborationist policies of the unions aren't working out too well (for the bureaucrats that is).

Skraeling
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Sep 6 2010 06:58
omar wrote:
Asher's assertion that we won't participate in October 20 is inaccurate. As for the pessimism expressed in most of this thread, I think it is fairly inaccurate a representation of the possibilities for working class action in the coming period.

People should get busy organising against these attacks and trying to mobilise people rather than just moaning about the decomposition of the class.

Pockets of militant workers will no doubt come to the fore in this period and from these pockets a concerted campaign of resistance can be built.

sure pure pessimism about the decomposition of the class is innacurate, but you're in a hyperactivist Trotskyist outfit Socialist Aotearoa which is broadly in the Socialist Worker tradition - so not surprising you see 'upsurges' everytime a few thousand people protest!

Skraeling
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Sep 6 2010 07:24
bootsy wrote:

Most of the people organising around this are fairly pessimistic and that is wholly justifiable. The fact is, no matter what your view on the trade unions, the CTU doesn't haven't the capability to organise any significant resistance to these laws. The fairness at work rallies managed to attract a fair few people, however as we mentioned in our report they could have attracted many more with the resources the CTU has available. They were barely advertised, I saw one poster for it in Wellington.

i agree that they dont have the capability to organise significant resistance, but its more complex than that. a big problem is that unions really cant strike against these laws even if they wished to, which just shows you how stupid it was for most unions not to oppose the ECA and ERA anti-strike laws.

also, for the rallies, i got a flyer in my letterbox, saw a poster for it on a bus, heard that a union was leafletting a supermarket, got given leaflet and posters by the union i am in which i distroed at work, and we got 3 emails about it from the pro-partnership union i am in. so they did advertise it ok-ish. don't forget a real problem is that most unions have been divorced from any real meaningful struggle and divorced from their membership for so long that they have lost touch with the 'rank and file', plus the decomposition and on-going defeat of our class, means that it is very very hard for unions to 'mobilise' lots of workers from above.

plus the CTU itself does not have many resources - it is quite poor and reliant on major unions (i think) for money - heard they actually cut back staff this year or last.

Quote:
Likewise I'm already feeling the stopworks will be a bit of a flop, so many unions aren't going to participate as Asher has mentioned, and for those workers who do participate they will find themselves sitting in a stadium being lectured by labour party politicians. This sort of thing just strikes me as a barrier to any self-organised response to the attacks.

sorry to play devil's advocate but dont remember given today's low 'class consciousness' that such stopworks are slightly sort of OKish given that many workers in unions dont really know about the laws and what they mean, so it may be a small step to get more involved and raising awareness. shit i sound like a leninist or something saying rebellion happens in stages, but there is a point that the stopworks are something to build on, even if they are not self-organised. tho i suspect that is all the resistance they will mount against the laws. (urgh, but unsurprising)

Quote:
Because of this I think the focus of many people is shifting to building resistance to the new laws once they are introduced, rather than actually campaigning against their introduction which is starting to look a bit hopeless (not that I think we shouldn't do that at all, but there is a healthy sense of realism about how best to use our energies tbh). Hence the rather sudden, widespread (within the left) support for setting up solidarity networks around the country. The potential effectiveness of these networks has already been demonstrated by the victory on Friday.

maybe but these little networks (we are both involved in one) are pretty small fry really, we can't do much at the mo, and compared to unions, these networks are absolutely tiny and irrelevant. plus these networks tend to attract politicos at the moment, so a real need to move beyond that.

Quote:
For that reason I have to agree with omar (reluctantly), if there is an effective means of resisting these laws then there is the possibility that we can build up a community of militants,

i hope you mean a community of militant workers, not a community of leftists.

Quote:
We really are working in the dark with these new organisational forms though, and the fact is the majority of those involved are pretty young and inexperienced. But for me I think the important thing is to try and set a precedent by showing that struggle at the point of production is what really counts, rather than the largely symbolic 'actions' and political maneuvers of the union 'movement'.

i would say the network form of organisation (for all its faults) is worth experimenting with given the current laws and situation, and seeing if it works. if it doesn't, critically examine it, and try to modify it/adapt it, and if that does not work, try something else. it's just a tactic.

bootsy
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Sep 6 2010 22:39

(Answering your some of your points in a pretty all over the place fashion)

Quote:
i hope you mean a community of militant workers, not a community of leftists.

Yeah for sure! I think this is actually a difference between what we are envisaging and what the Workers Party understand a solidarity network to be (well, perhaps one of the many things the WP envisage a network to be). Of course they would never admit this.

Quote:
maybe but these little networks (we are both involved in one) are pretty small fry really, we can't do much at the mo, and compared to unions, these networks are absolutely tiny and irrelevant. plus these networks tend to attract politicos at the moment, so a real need to move beyond that.

Of course you're right here, but I am feeling optimistic that these networks can grow if they're doing things that trade unions either can't do or won't do.

That said, I have been thinking a lot about what Grace said at the discussion group the other night, that these networks are actually just mimicking the worst aspects of what unions are doing right now. I mean will it be their entire focus to just organise pickets? What about workers who get in touch who aren't in the service industry, who can't excercise the same kind of power by just organising pickets? What then? Do you think this tactic will actually improve the situation for workers who want to take strike action?

I think this is actually why that Wednesday group needs to stay around, so that there is a group specifically focusing on the right to strike. But, unfortunately, that group seems so utterly incoherent that there is a real danger they will end up doing pretty much the same thing as this network. Which would be a problem.

bootsy
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Sep 6 2010 22:44
Skraeling wrote:
omar wrote:
Asher's assertion that we won't participate in October 20 is inaccurate. As for the pessimism expressed in most of this thread, I think it is fairly inaccurate a representation of the possibilities for working class action in the coming period.

People should get busy organising against these attacks and trying to mobilise people rather than just moaning about the decomposition of the class.

Pockets of militant workers will no doubt come to the fore in this period and from these pockets a concerted campaign of resistance can be built.

sure pure pessimism about the decomposition of the class is innacurate, but you were in a hyperactivist Trotskyist outfit Socialist Aotearoa which is broadly in the Socialist Worker tradition - so not surprising you see 'upsurges' everytime a few thousand people protest!

cough cough...

Malcy
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Sep 7 2010 21:25

Bootsy, when you say "mimicking the worst aspects of what unions are doing now" do you mean the best aspects? Otherwise I'm a bit confused.

We had a first meeting to set up a network in Dunedin on Sunday. I can already see the danger of it becoming just another group of lefty activists. I tried to stress the need for some kind of strategy to link up militant workers, beneficiaries, etc.

On the stopwork, I haven't heard any more from the CTU on this through email. Chris, the main Dunedin Unite organiser didn't even know it was happening. He also pointed out that due to the fact that most Unite members are rostered employees with their hours changing from week to week, the employer can easily roster non-union employees during the stopwork meeting. I think it's a fair assumption that union members are more likely to go if they are being paid for it. I can't say at this stage what the stopwork will look like in Dunedin. I'm fairly sure that my union will be taking part though. It's up to us to try and stop it just being a lecture by Labour politicians.

Overall, I share the pessimism of most of the posters here. Omar says that there is a "fairly inaccurate representation of the possibilities for working class action in the coming period" on this thread. Well, would you care to give us your assessment of what these possibilities are, Omar? All you've said so far is 'Don't mourn, organise!' which is all well and good as an exhortation but not very informative as a materialist analysis. And don't forget that most everyone here IS involved in organising, as Asher rightly pointed out.

Skraeling
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Sep 7 2010 21:40
Quote:
Of course you're right here, but I am feeling optimistic that these networks can grow if they're doing things that trade unions either can't do or won't do.

That said, I have been thinking a lot about what Grace said at the discussion group the other night, that these networks are actually just mimicking the worst aspects of what unions are doing right now. I mean will it be their entire focus to just organise pickets? What about workers who get in touch who aren't in the service industry, who can't excercise the same kind of power by just organising pickets? What then? Do you think this tactic will actually improve the situation for workers who want to take strike action?

G said an important criticism there -she was referring to certain unions who use tactics of trying to put forward a media image rather than, i presume, organising on the ground and encouraging workers to do things themselves. ie. a top down method. Even the Burger Fuel 'victory' (not sure if it really is a complete victory) was based on that to some extent - ie. using the media, giving Burger Fuel a bad image, and the threat of spectacular protests across the North island and Sydney with little actual self-organising on the ground and links with Burger Fuel workers. Would be interested in SimonO's views on this. But still the Burger Fuel win was pretty good.

Anyway, the solidarity model has lots of faults, like any model. i don't think it is all about organising pickets, also linking people together, sharing experiences, putting out information like the clearinghouse idea we have. other solidarity groups like Solidarity in Auckland seem to have a much, much broader agenda than that: it includes education, campaigning and rank and file unionism.

the solidarity network picket model (naming and shaming bosses) is less relevant to most office or factory workers, tho if there is a need for pickets and sharing info and organising outside official channels, it will be useful.