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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Workplace Fightback: Build it from Below

Head delegate Peter Kelly from the Telecom Engineers speaks at the Strike Benefit

The weather packed in as activists, unionists and socialists headed to a small fundraiser on a rainy Friday evening at Auckland Trades Hall. As well as netting a neat sum of cash ($450) for the Telecom workers facing redundancy and a new form of precarious employment through a dependent contractor model, the gathering also provided a forum for people to begin discussing what’s needed in order to gain or retain living wages and job security through the recession and the National government.

With bus workers overwhelmingly rejecting Infratil’s latest offer and changing into Strike gear, fire fighters prepared to confront their chiefs and John Key on picket lines and public service workers facing a round of 0% pay offers the stage is being set for a broader confrontation between employers keeping workers screwed down on poverty wages and fed-up workers prepared to try their luck with industrial action.

Apathy and disorganisation amongst union members and in the workplace and an increasingly parochial, unsophisticated, humourless and conservative union bureaucracy will remain the major toxins in the veins of the union movement.

Political leadership & Industrial leadership

The task for socialists is how to win over militant workers, delegates and sections of the union movement away from the language of partnership, the politics of the Labour Party and a conservative industrial strategy that sees union bosses baking cakes, trying to shame the Government and making tepid speeches on the need for militancy.This necessarily requires the rebuilding of the union movement from the bottom up. A co-ordinated rank and file network of active unionists &community activists united around building mass actions is necessary to rebuild the union movement.

This network should be established in support of the workplace struggles currently in fullswing. It should wherever possible co-ordinate mass direct action in solidarity with workers in dispute. The Telecom & bus drivers dispute affects us all. Privatised public services in the 1990s are having their working conditions fully eroded by an increasingly confident employer class. The Telecom and NZ Bus Head offices should be occupied in solidarity with/by the workers in struggle and the community should demand that these services be returned to public ownership and control. A break with the political and industrial leadership of the current trade union officialdom requires a workplace-community campaign for public ownership & control of public services waged by a rank and file network prepared to use direct action to win. -Omar Hamed, Socialist Aotearoa.

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