Across New Zealand, workers are beginning to see the effects of a crisis that they did not create.
Our busdrivers are threatened with lockout. Our firefighters who risk their lives for us have to strike for a pittance. Our Telecom engineers are forced to give up their sick pay and holidays and become private contractors at the very time we need a decent broadband system. And those who work the hardest and dirtiest jobs are paid the lowest- hundreds of thousands of workers try to make ends meet on a minimum wage of $12.50, or not much more.
In Waikato, Open Country Cheese locked out their workers for daring to think about striking, employed scabs to replace them and then had the cheek to accuse the workers of sabotage when waste was pumped into the rivers by people who didn't know how the plant worked.
In Manukau City, Bridgeman Concrete locked out their workers even though they hadn't taken any action, in order to enforce a pay freeze and break the collective agreement.
Across the media, the pundits are desperately beginning to chatter that the recession is coming to end – but for who? Sure, a few imaginary digits in New York, London and Berlin started to look as if maybe, perhaps, after all they might be thinking about going up rather than spiralling endlessly downwards. What use is that, however, for workers on poverty wages in this country?
More importantly, the employers know that the surefire way to increase their profits is to drive wages down. That's why the Director of Open Country Cheese, for example, tried to argue that dairy should be made an essential industry, denying workers the right to strike. Several other companies have been using lockouts in recent weeks in what we believe is a concerted attempt by employers to take advantage of the recession, drive down pay and weaken our unions.
But we didn't make a mess of the economy, so it's not up to us to pay. Politicians that have had their hands in the kitty for years fail to deliver on jobs, services and housing, send soldiers half way round the world to get blown up in the interest of American foreign policy and then turn round and talk about making sacrifices to get the economy back on track.
Where are our union leaders in all this? Telecom workers look as if they could well be starved into a defeat and yet EPMU leaders have lot released any part of the $2 million that is there as a 'welfare fund' in order to support strikers. Calling it a strike fund and matching strikers wages in an all out strike was the only way of winning this dispute and it has not been done. Open Country Cheese is part of a vicious anti-union group that will use any tactics to defeat workers and yet there have not even been mass pickets mobilised to physically stop scabs going into the plant. Relying on the courts will never work – a physical show of strength from the strikers and their many supporters will. Two weeks ago it looked as if there was the beginnings of a fightback that could have been spread across many sectors and which desperately needed to be united. A march in Auckland on a Saturday against attacks on workers and cuts in public services to bring all of these groups together to find inspiration and solidarity from each other could have been the first steps in doing this. Instead the CTU has been silent – preferring not to rock the boat in the hope of something small that might have been handed down from the table from the 'jobs summit' that seems to have died a death.
Where now? There are no magical solutions – but first steps can be made. First of all, we believe that as many people as possible should be joining Unite's campaign for $15 minimum wage - go to www.unite.org.nz to sign the petition for a Citizen's Initiated Referumdum on the topic and join the Halloween Trick or Treat action on October 31st.
Secondly, we believe that we the unions should be organising a march in Auckland on a Saturday to unite all of these disputes. At the moment, every dispute is isolated and fragmented – such a display of solidarity will give confidence to ourselves and inspire other workers to fightback – against the slashing of jobs and wages, the travesty of a business led Super City and the cuts in night classes.
Thirdly we believe that socialist and trade unionists and activists should begin fighting in earnest for the sorts of changes that we need in the unions – that means solidarity work on every dispute – wherever small – collections, workplace delegations, pickets where we can.
And for all of that we need links, politics and real leadership from the bottom – work with us and join us to build that again.