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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On the Waterfront






The wharfies of Aotearoa have a proud tradition of fighting for workers rights- from the heroic Jock Barnes and the Great Lockout of 1951, to the murder of Christine Clarke on picket duty on the last day of the 20th Century. Embibed with a solid working class democratic culture, they hold monthly stop work all out meetings, monthly delegate meetings, and elect and strongly contest all positions within their union. They have a thorough internationalism, and take action in solidarity with comrades across the five continents. Their record of digging deep in solidarity with other workers in struggle in New Zealand is unsurpassed- recently they gave $6,000 to the locked out workers in the meat plant at Marton. Over the years, they have fought to maintain and strengthen their conditions, so that they can earn a decent crust to feed their families.

Now they are facing the attacks of a CEO and a board who are largely the creation of Rodney Hide, and many of the directors who accuse the wharfies of being greedy are members of the 1%, who double dip and sit on various committees that pay them thousands of dollars per meeting.

The battle is about two main neo-liberal attacks- casualisation and privatisation.

Casualisation- the wharfies have fought hard to win rostered 8 and a half hour shifts, allowing them to plan their work-life balance with their families. At the turn of the century, hiring on wharfs the world over was nothing but a glorified slave auction- stevedore bosses would check a man's body and teeth before hiring for a day, or throw the remaining chits for a day's work in the air so desperate workers would scramble and fight each other tooth and nail for a backbreaking day of exploitation. Those who doubt the veracity of these images should watch Ken Loach's heartbreaking documentary, the Flickering Flame, about the betrayal of the Liverpool Dockers in the early 1990s.

Rodney's boys want the bad old days back, so that wharfies hang by the phone, waiting for a call for a shift that could vary between 2 and 12 hours in duration. These are the problems that many workers face in the fast food industry- and many of those workers are pushing for strike action in May for guaranteed hours.

Privatisation- the crisis at the Ports has been manufactured, and as the National Government plans to push through asset sales, it needs to create a pretext for stealing the wharfs from public ownership. Apparently, a profit of 8% per year is not enough for these insatiable exploiters. They would do well to cast their eye overseas, where many economies dream of such growth. If the bosses defeat the union and push through casualisation, then the knives of the government will not be far behind.

Which is why the idiocy of Auckland's supposed left wing mayor Len Brown is disgusting. He follows the proud tradition of his Labour party mates who took neither side when the Wharfies were locked out in 1951- except Len pretends to be on everybodys side. He says he's against privatisation, but in the middle of a struggle and a lockout, he chides workers for defending their pay and conditions, and talks about flexibility and the need to return greater profits.

If this is going to be indicative of David Shearer's new Labour party's approach to unions, then clearly a stauncher political ally, like the Mana Movement, is needed by workers in struggle.

2011 was a year of revolution and revolt in many other countries overseas, but in Aotearoa, where lions were led by donkeys, we saw many bad draws and defeats in our union movement, from the Hobbit debacle to the Marton lockout. The CTU and the union movement need to stop fucking around- when an employer locks out a group of workers, we need to mobilise en force, blockade entrances, and physically occupy workplaces. It's time to call a scab a scab- no point in good union workers starving to death slowly on a roadside when this kind of industrial scum knife their fellow workers in the back. A united workforce will beat any boss black and blue- its the class traitors in our midst we need to deal to in 2012.

So, learn the lessons of 2011. The Wharfies, the vanguard of our movement, lead the battle in 2012. Socialist Aotearoa will be standing with them on the waterfront, blockading and occupying if needs be. We call for social movements such as Mana and Occupy to join the struggle at the gates of the wharves, and ensure that no scab gets through and no work is done until the evils of casualisation and privatisation are defeated.

Moderate parties such as the Greens and Labour, who claim to oppose asset sales, should mobilise their branches and supporters to physically join the battle at the wharves, and come on down for some solidarity picket duty. A large United Front and public demonstration opposing casualisation and asset sales should be organised by summers end, so that the 70% or so of Kiwis who oppose privatisation can manifest in number akin to the anti-Mining struggle led so deftly by Greenpeace in 2010.

If the wharfies win, then the battle against privatisation is on. If they lose, then this government will continue to steam roller over the pathetic excuse that the mainstream left believes is opposition. Their battle is the battle of the 99% against the greedy 1%- abandon them at your peril.





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